Kerry employer builds homes to help and retain staff

Walsh Colour Print project in Castleisland supplies A-rated houses for €150,000

St Nicholas’ Day, on December 6th, is when Polish children get a visit from a certain white-bearded, red-robed figure. And if they are good, the original Santa brings small gifts and treats.

This Sunday, one Polish family living in Co Kerry was celebrating a somewhat larger handover – as they took ownership of their own home after a 16-year wait.

Marcin and Anna Wójs have moved into what is the first house built by Walsh Colour Print in Castleisland for employees who have struggled to get a foot onto the property ladder.

A national company that includes the educational title Educate.ie, Walsh Colour Print was established in 1991 in the small Kerry town synonymous with the late Con Houlihan and a great rugby and athletics tradition.

In 2017, the company embarked on the groundbreaking project to enable employees to own their own homes in an effort to provide security for its staff as well as to attract and retain workers.

The houses in small blocks are A-rated, with air-to-water heating, and come in at the not-for-profit price of €150,000 – the price signalled by Tony and Patricia Walsh three years ago when they began the project.

Family struggle

The first three have been finished, with another 17 under construction.

Mr Wójs was the catalyst for the project, Mr Walsh explained. A fork lift driver who had been working with the company for 12 years, he told the company of the family’s struggle to find their own home and how it was getting them down.

“Our worry was what was going to happen him when he’s 65 and renting all those years,” Mr Walsh said.

The Wójs were “trapped “ earning too much to qualify for social housing and not able to reach the mortgage for houses in Kerry. At the same time the cost of rent is hefty and prices are continuing to rise.

Anyone working for the company will now have the opportunity to own their own home and the mortgage repayments will be less than the rental, Mr Walsh said.

“We hope this will give us the edge, in retaining our workforce and also in recruiting new people,” he added.

Ten-year scheme

“The houses are fully owned by our employees. Employees have to work with the company for 10 years and after that they are free to sell without any penalty.”

Mr Wójs’s wife Anna, who is working with Educate.ie, said the couple were so frustrated at paying rents of €900-€1,000 a month they considered leaving Ireland.

“Lots of friends moved back to Poland two and three years ago,” she said.

Owning their own home “means a lot”, she said. Two years ago, they had to move from the house they had been renting for six years before Christmas because it was being sold.

“Now we have a house, we feel better,” she said. “My daughter can have her own room. I can have my kitchen. Mine! It’s like a Christmas present!”

In all there is planning for 70 houses and creche facilities on the company-owned land at Bawnluskaha just outside the town.