Mary tells her story of how getting involved with Leeds Irish Health and Homes helped her discover her creative side - and a dose of confidence.
Mary has plenty of passions in life: her garden, her friends and, last but not least, her glue gun.
“I love that glue gun!” she says. “I didn’t even know what one was until I saw Theresa with one at the craft group.”
Mary is a regular at Leeds Irish Health and Homes craft sessions, the Lunch Clubs on both Mondays and Fridays, the intergenerational Gardening Project at Holy Rosary Primary School, the Mna (Women’s) group and has just completed a BOSS (Be Online Stay Safe) course. Her energy and enthusiasm is infectious.
Ten years ago, however, it was a different story.
“My daughter was worried about me because I wasn’t going out,” says Mary. “She rang me up from Dublin. She said ‘There’s this place called Leeds Irish Health and Homes - I’ve found them online. You should go.’”
Mary was reluctant. “The first time I went to the Lunch Club I said to myself, if there’s no parking, I’m not staying. If there’s no one waiting outside for me like they said, I’m turning around and heading home. I don’t like to go anywhere on my own.”
“But there was parking, and Caroline was there waiting for me. She brought me in and sat me with Tina and Pat.”
“I’ve never looked back. My daughter says she has to make an appointment to speak to me now!”
Mary and her friend Evelyn were presented with bouquets by LIHH CEO Ant Hanlon at the 2022 Christmas Party as a thank you for making the table centres and decorations for the event
Mary is known for her creative flair, which she regularly puts to use making beautiful table decorations for Leeds Irish Health and Homes’ Tea Dances and parties. For the coronation-themed Lunch Club in May, she made a Union Jack flag out of balloons.
“I got a sheet of cardboard, packets of balloons and a little flag from the Pound Shop to copy. I told Caroline I had it out in the car and she said, “I’ll help you bring it in!” She’s already commissioned me to make a green, white and gold one for St Patrick’s Day next year. That’ll be easier!”
But Mary is the first to admit that her smiles and bubbly personality can act as a mask for low self-esteem. “I had no confidence in myself for a long time,” she says. “I worried people would laugh at me or I’d fail somehow.”
“The last ten years have been better. I’ve been let loose. But I still struggle. I wasn’t confident enough to walk into the Lunch Club with those balloons in case they said they didn’t want them. That’s why I left them out in the car at first.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be over it 100%, but doing things like this helps.”
Mary, who came over to Leeds 60 years ago this year - “It was the 12th of July, and the boat was the Princess Maud” - believes anyone can expect a warm welcome from Leeds Irish Health and Homes.
“Care, culture, community - that’s for everyone, isn’t it? I’m Irish, and Ireland will always be home, but I only lived there 17 and a half years. Leeds has given me work, a career in the Ambulance Service, it’s where my family is. I’ve had brilliant care from the NHS and not paid a penny for it.”
“And every St Patrick’s Day we take over the city - everyone wants to be Irish that day!”
If you'd like to find out more about the Lunch Clubs, arts and crafts and other activity groups that Leeds Irish Health and Homes offers, call the office on 0113 262 5614.