Creative Learning Centre in Limerick hopes for more funding

Nick Rabbitts


Nick Rabbitts

While Bernadette Kenny - on drums - is the only permanent member of staff at the Bluebox, ten arts therpists are employed on a part-time basis. These include, from right to left, Michelle Frances, Vaiva Kreitenberga, Kate Walsh, Andrew Lynch and Kate Stoica. Picture: Michael Cowhey
A ROXBORO charity which provides a key educational link for vulnerable and marginalised children in Limerick is hoping to expand its services, and help more people.

A ROXBORO charity which provides a key educational link for vulnerable and marginalised children in Limerick is hoping to expand its services, and help more people.

The Bluebox Creative Learning Centre - which works with vulnerable young children and parents using therapies related to art, music, play and music - has finally found a place to call home, within the Limerick Enterprise Development Partnership.

This came after the charity spent its few years residing in prefabricated buildings.

However, the new chief executive of the charity Bernadette Kenny has put in place a programme which she hopes will see able to serve more students in the city.

Art therapy is a creative method of expression used as a therapeutic technique, and has been shown to work on children who are disruptive in the classroom, or have emotional difficulties. Similarly, music therapy also draws on a child’s creative juices, as does play therapy.

The only centre of its kind - Bernadette says possibly Europe - it receives limited funding from the HSE, but is hugely reliant on the generosity of the public.

“Our mission is to work with the most marginalised young people and children in Limerick. We want to go national: we have been asked by other counties, but we simply do not have the funding.”

To this end, this is why the charity has embarked on the huge social media campaign, called ‘Love the Bear’.

People are asked to take a selfie with their favourite stuffed toy, and send a picture message to 50300 to donate €2.

Among the people who have taken a ‘selfie’ are Education Minister, who the charity is hoping will fund the service to the tune of an extra €400,000 next year.

At present, the centre - which contains two rooms full of paintpots, stuffed animals, drumkits and other instruments - welcomes around 200 youngsters a week from schools across Limerick.

But heartbreakingly for Bernadette, many more are not able to avail of the services, due to a lack of funding.

“We try not to give people false hope. When social workers phone us and really want our services or their parents phone us, we are often the ones who have to say no. It is really difficult, as these are real real needs,” she said.

Bernadette says art therapy can make an “amazing difference” to both the school and the child if they engage in therapy at the centre.

“When their behaviours begin to change, and they become more integrated in the classroom, there is not so much disruption. The whole school benefits from this,” she said.

By the same token, Bernadette says it is not fair on teachers to deal with children who may be disruptive.

She explains: “Teachers are not trained as therapists. They too get traumatised by hearing the sad stories and the difficult stories children come in with. They do a great job, but it is not their job to be therapists.”

Ms O’Sullivan, who is a former Montessori school teacher, has visited the Bluebox Creative Learning Centre on a number of occasions, and Bernadette believes she is supportive of their cause.

Asked what she would like from the government, she said: “I would like them to up some of the monies they are giving us, so we are not always begging and asking. We are not sure every year how much service we can give. We need a certainty.”

That would mean an extra €400,000 a year.

On a personal level, Bernadette joined the Bluebox Creative Learning Centre following the departure of its previous manager Mark Lloyd.

Having worked as a dance and drama teacher in the deprived borough of Tower Hamlets in London, she then moved to California. Sadly, the health of her mother made her return to her native Co Clare, and take the role with the Bluebox CLC.