Big thank you from

Cathy Lyness

Cathy LynessCATHY Lyness, 31, is Acting Manager of the Praxis Secret Garden in Hillsborough. This is a workskills programme where service users with a learning disability are able to gain experience working within a coffee shop and growing plants and vegetables in the garden. Located in the grounds of Hillsborough estate, the coffee shop is one of three run by Praxis Care in Northern Ireland and open to the public, Monday-Sat 9am-4pm. Primarily established as a work skills project for adults with learning disabilities, the coffee shop and garden sales offer the trainees the opportunity to develop a wide range of catering and horticulture skills, from food preparation, customer service and plant propagation- Cathy has worked with Praxis for the past 8 years. From a very early age Cathy has had an interest in working in the care sector being a support worker and used to do a lot of volunteer work, from the age of 14. She studied for a Psychology degree at Queen's University before going travelling around the world for a year. During her travels she worked with people with learning disabilities and decided that on her return home she wouhd study for a social work degree. After achieving her goal of studying social work Cathy took up a team leader job with Praxis before becoming acting Manager last year.

Registered as a charity in 1983, Praxis is a major provider of services for adults and children with a learning disability, mental ill health, acquired brain injury and for older people, including people with dementia. The group was established in 2002 by the merging of three well established charities in Northern Ireland.

I divide my time working between the Secret Garden and at Bocombra Cookie Company Workskills programme in Portadown. On the days I am working in Hillsborough I leave my house in Lurgan at 8.30am. On my arrival I will go straight to my office and prepare for the day ahead. Once I am organised I meet with the team leaders and then I will go over to the cafe and chat to the staff and service users. I work closely with the team leaders who keep me informed with what is going on daily and how the trainees are getting on in the cafe and the garden. Without the support, dedication and excellent team work from the whole staff team my job would be extremely difficult The team at the cafe produce some wonderful food at reasonable prices making it a great place to stop for tea, coffee or lunch. I try to be hands on as much as possible despite my role as Manager.

This job does have a lot of paper work but it is very important and essential to keep in tune with the needs of the ongoing service users who are involved with the programme.

I am relatively new to the post and currently I am trying to raise the profile of the Secret Garden and this involves presentations and fundraising. The programme is quite well known but we are always striving for more people to come along and visit us. It is a very unique service and something we are all very proud of. The fruit and vegetables grown in the garden are used in the cafe and
everything else is locally sourced.

The team leaders and myself hold regular meetings to discuss policies and procedures, new legislation, as well as generating ideas and plans to better and improve the service as a whole but also to ensure that the trainees goals and desires are met to the best of our ability. This also gives me an opportunity to get feedback on all aspects of the scheme. I could also be dealing with referral applications and queries on how someone with a learning disability can get involved.

I really enjoy my job. It is so rewarding in that it provides the users with a chance to integrate back into the community and I feel very passionate about this. I feel very privileged to have my job and work with so many wonderful and inspirational individuals.

Ulster Star