Season’s Greetings

It is hard to believe that 2022 is coming to a close and what a fruitful year it has been here at Workhouse Union. Before we sign off for a few rest-filled weeks of winter hibernation, we want to take a moment to reflect on the many activities that have taken place over the last twelve months. We also want to share a warm and heartfelt thank you for your continued support and engagement. We have been delighted to collaborate with friends and colleagues, both old and new, and we look forward to continuing our work together in 2023. 

The year began with a collective commitment to CARE. Together with VISUAL Carlow, we embarked on a research journey to figure out how and why CARE is integral to both organisations. We reflected together through a seminar at VISUAL in July and continued the conversation through the Dublin Arts Book Fair 22: A Caring Matter at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, guest curated by our Creative Director, Rosie. At both venues, the research included new artworks by visual artist Marielle MacLeman, exploring the invisible labour of care through textile works responding to ongoing shared research with many colleagues.

Workhouse Union took some significant organisational strides this year, supported by an Arts Council Capacity Grant and the chance for our board and team to work with Scott Burnett from WOVE on our strategic direction. Our team grew this year with architect Ailbhe Cunningham joining as our Research Producer and co-design facilitator and Mark Girling joining as our administrator. 

It has been a pleasure to continue to take part in many important placemaking and community-led housing discussions across Ireland and abroad this year; Places Matter Conference at VISUAL Carlow (The Arts Council/Local Government), Housing Ourselves Seminar (Cloughjordan Co-Housing), HOMEWARD (Common Knowledge/Irish Architecture Foundation) and Limerick Symposium (University Limerick). Workhouse Union travelled to Scotland in September to facilitate workshops at a two-day forum, kNOw One Place. Our peers, The Stove Network, coordinated this national forum focused on creative placemaking in the south of Scotland. The synergies evidenced across both of our organisations make for sustained, fruitful collaboration. We look forward to seeing how a symbiotic cross-channel exchange grows into 2023. 

Over the year, we facilitated and delivered co-design processes with collaborators and partners, including Community Co-production Network West & An Áit Eile Cooperative in Galway, Cartoon Saloon in Kilkenny City and rural towns and villages involved in Kilkenny LEADER Partnerships Smart Villages training programme. We had a steep and rewarding learning curve working alongside B4OC (Piltown’s community-owned broadband company) and Kilkenny LEADER Partnership over the autumn to deliver a series of workshops focused on community-owned broadband capacity building in the county.

We returned to a cherished project launched in the depths of lockdown in 2020, working with ICOMOS Ireland to promote the OTHER STORIES: Cultural Heritage and Society publication. Through a book tour hosted by five community and heritage projects across the island of Ireland (Cork, Clare, Mayo, Fermanagh, Dublin), we celebrated the enduring and profound efforts of cultural heritage projects and the people and places that sustain them.

Spatial Structures is our new paid mentorship opportunity for creative practitioners interested in developing skills in place-based collaborative practice. We are delighted to announce that Kathryn Maguire and Selene Murphy are our Spatial Structures awardees and their mentorship programme with us is underway. 

2022 also brought with it the launch of community-led feasibility studies with Ballykeeffe Amphitheatre, Ballyragget and Dunnamaggin. While the launches marked the conclusion of the Town Ecologies 2021 co-design process, it is clear that each of these communities will be busy developing and implementing their visions for years to come. Such fruitful co-design processes for the three communities and their architectural co-design partners, Uncertain Futures, Islander Architects, Kate Griffin & Andrea Doyle alongside Eimear O’Connell (heritage consultant),  Deborah Darcy (bio-diversity consultant), Paul Bokslag (youth engagement) and Jennie Moran and Dermot Gaynor (enterprise development).

Following the success of 2021’s co-design process, we launched Town Ecologies 2022 and have secured funding from the Arts Council for 2023. Studio Anois are engaged in a community-led needs analysis in Ballyhale, and Wrkshop Architects are working in Ballytobin on a community-led neighbourhood plan. These community-led plans will be ready to launch and share early in 2023.

It’s been heartening to see participatory projects take hold and become programmes we can sustain annually. Pattern Makers, led by artist and designer Liz Nilsson, is now entering its third year with support from the Arts Council. Pattern Makers is a series of intercultural textile printing workshops sharing the Print Block Callan studio with our broader community in County Kilkenny. This season, Liz and the group of dedicated patternmakers focused on creating and making designs for homeware products.

And as we reflect on the year’s highlights, we also think of the immense challenges experienced locally and globally, affecting people on many profound levels. And here at Workhouse Union, we experienced a massive loss at the beginning of the year with the death of Patrick Lydon, a collaborator, co-creator, mentor and friend. Yet, despite this huge loss and sadness, we are eager to work with others to realise Patrick’s vision. We continue to work closely with O’Cualann Co-Housing Alliance, the Lydon family and others to bring the Nimble Spaces/Inclusive Neighbourhood housing project to fruition and secure the future of Westcourt and Callan Workhouse through a Community Land Trust.

A huge thank you to all our funders and supporters, in particular, Kilkenny LEADER Partnership, for their continued commitment to supporting community-led co-design in their programme and the Arts Council for their ongoing support through Arts Grant Funding. A sneak peek of some of the collaborations to come in 2023: Cow House Studios / BíUrban / Cloughjordan Co-Housing / SOA / Common Knowledge / Creative Places Tuam and keep an eye out for a series of opportunities we’ll be announcing in the new year.

Warm and festive greetings from all of the team at Workhouse Union,

Rosie, Hannah, Mark & Ailbhe