A community project for Communion season’s best-dressed
Ballymun Child and Family Resource Centre’s first pop-up Communion-wear shop is big success
Jacqui Dwyer (left) and Louise Smyth at the community communion pop-up shop at Ballymun Child and Family Resource Centre in Ballymun, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
In Dublin’s Ballymun, amid elaborate confections of chiffon, voile, silk and lace, little girls and their parents are this year able to say yes to their dream communion dress – without the financial stress.
The Ballymun Child and Family Resource Centre is hosting its first pop-up communion-wear shop and so successful has it been, it will likely become an annual event.
Volunteer Jacqui Dwyer, whose idea it was to host one in the area, explains she knew of a similar project in Edenmore and approached the centre to run one here.
“I spoke to Louise [Smyth, family support worker] before Christmas and she was very interested,” says Ms Dwyer. “ I set up a Facebook page in January and we put fliers into local business, the library and put a link on the centre’s website.”
There’s a lot of need in the community. In fact there’s a greater need now than there was in 2014, during the recession
People and businesses were invited to donate used or new communion dresses for girls, and suits for boys. Families who need the clothes can then visit the shop, try on outfits and choose them as they would in any retailer.
Each gets an appointment for a half-hour slot, to protect their privacy.
It has opened for two afternoons, with a third planned later this month and almost 20 families have availed so far.
“People have been dropping in clothes, shoes, gloves, bags socks. Or we can go and pick things up from people.”
A room has been transformed with clothes rails and tables laden with dresses – some simply adorned with beads and embroidery, others festooned with sequins, lace, ruffles and ruches, as well as smart slacks and tweed waistcoats.
All have been dry-cleaned by a local cleaner’s.
Used shoes have been smartened up and repaired if needed by a local heel-bar, and a local woman – who doesn’t want to be named – will do any alterations needed.
“The community has been great,” says Ms Smyth.
“I immediately knew the shop was a great idea. Holy communion is a big expense for any family. We’ve had families where one or even two parents are working come. A lot of families are really struggling.
“There’s a lot of need in the community. In fact there’s a greater need now than there was in 2014, during the recession.
“We hear there’s a boom, but really inequality has got worse.
“There have been so many deep cuts in this community – projects closed that supported families, and they have not been put back.”
Lack of regeneration
Echoing her the centre’s manager, Valerie O’Carroll says that while Ballymun’s regeneration promised much, much never materialised.
“Community development projects were closed, we still have no shopping centre, the Metro was promised and it’s been delayed and delayed.”
Parts of Ballymun, according to Pobal’s 2016 deprivation index, are classified as “very” and “extremely” disadvantaged with unemployment rates as high as 50 per cent.
The shop is run in such a way that the children don’t know the clothes are donated, says Ms Smyth.
“One of the mothers said [to her daughter] last week, ‘You go outside and wait now while mammy pays for this.’ ”
The greatest joy, says Ms Dwyer, is in the children. Both Ms Smyth and Ms Dwyer say they would “melt your heart”.
“There were two sisters in here, both doing their communion, and when I say they twirled in those dresses . . . One little guy came in and he knew exactly what he wanted – a suit in a true blue. He looked so dipper, dapper with the waistcoat and all. I said, ‘You look just like Conor McGregor’, and he was all. ‘Really?’. He was so proud. That’s gorgeous to see.”