Elish gets crafty for charity

SPRING CRAFT FAIR. . . .Craft facilitator Elish O'Kane pictured with some of the participants and their wares at the Gasyard Centre on Friday morning. The Spring Craft Fair will take place next Saturday, March 3. From left Helen Meenan, Bernie Nelis, Hananya Vikkerdijk, Rosemary Cusack and Margaret Hampshire. (2402JM07)

SPRING CRAFT FAIR. . . .Craft facilitator Elish O'Kane pictured with some of the participants and their wares at the Gasyard Centre on Friday morning. The Spring Craft Fair will take place next Saturday, March 3. From left Helen Meenan, Bernie Nelis, Hananya Vikkerdijk, Rosemary Cusack and Margaret Hampshire. (2402JM07)

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Having organised Craft Fairs for a variety of noble and charitable causes, local arts and crafts enthusiast Elish O’Kane is well known to many in Derry and Donegal. Now, Elish has volunteered her services once again - this time raising money for The Samaritans through a huge Spring Craft Fair in Derry’s Delacroix Bar next Saturday, March 3.

The Spring Craft Fair, which will run from 11am until 4pm next Saturday, has been organised to help raise not only money, but awareness of the non-listening volunteers who support The Samaritans.

Craft facilitator Elish O'Kane hard at work on a sewing machine at the Gasyard Centre this week. (2402JM06)

Craft facilitator Elish O'Kane hard at work on a sewing machine at the Gasyard Centre this week. (2402JM06)

Speaking to the ‘SUNDAY’, Elish, from Greenhaw in the city, explains: “Like every other charity in this recession, The Samaritans need our help. I only recently found out about the non-listening volunteers who support the charity through fundraising, IT or housekeeping, and also the Friends of the Samaritans, who have an interest in their work and help make other people aware of what they do and how you can help.”

Elish has been liaising with The Samaritans over the past few months to get next week’s Spring Craft Fair up and running.

“The Samaritans have helped publicise the Craft Fair through their Facebook, Twitter and various places. They know there are probably hundreds of people out there who don’t realise they can help support The Samaritans without the intensive training needed to become a listening volunteer. There are so many other ways you can help, like myself, as a support volunteer.”

With so many contacts in the arts and crafts world, Elish had no trouble lining up craftspeople for the fair.

With twenty stalls all booked and paid for, some of the Derry and Donegal’s best craftspeople will be in attendance.

“It’s a real showcase for local talent,” Elish says,

“We have a lady from Malin Head who sells handmade soaps and candles, a gentleman from Letterkenny who hand-turns wooden pens, another gentleman from Strabane who does wood-carving, and a lady from Buncrana who makes baby and toddler quilts. We also have knitwear, hand-beaded jewellery and fused-glass jewellery, and Derry’s Pink Ladies are also selling crocheted and knitted goods.

“As well as that, we have a lady who works in felt making the most beautiful toys and household items, a girl who paints on canvas and slate, and a lady who makes handmade lace.

“We also have a lady whose Maltese grandmother taught her the art of hand-beading these beautiful three-dimensional flowers, which would be just perfect for a wedding bouquet!

“We try not to duplicate crafts so everything is unique and everyone gets a fair chance to sell their wares on the day.”

“The Samaritans will also have a table on the day. They’ll be giving people the opportunity to learn more about the non-listening aspect of their work, and how you can get involved without actually manning the phones and becoming a listening volunteer.”

Labour of love

As a retired Art and Design teacher, 58-year-old Elish has always had a love of all things creative. “I trained as a graphic designer and then moved to Toronto and Vancouver Island in Canada for ten years,” she recalls.

“I taught part-time in Canada and so when I came back to Ireland, I got my teaching certificate and taught Art and Design for 15 years in both St. Joseph’s Boys’ School in Derry and Strabane Grammar School until I retired. When teaching, my nickname was magpie - as I was always picking up free odds and ends from all over the place to use elsewhere! I like to reuse and recycle things.”

Now married to retired fireman Paul O’Kane and enjoying her retirement, Elish continues to get crafty when the opportunity arises.

“I like to work with scrap fabrics, to make something out of nothing,” she says. “I work with a sewing machine and I just love making things, stitching cushions and aprons and things like that. I choose to organise craft fairs for charity, that’s just my thing. That way I feel as though I’m actively giving something back, as well as getting the chance to sell my own crafts from time to time.

“Fairs also provide an opportunity for the many talented artists willing and able to create crafts. With the City of Culture celebrations next year, it’s important that people realise just how many expert craftspeople are out there.”

Last summer, Elish also held a fair at Serenity House in Moville - which provides respite care for families of those with mental illness.

“There were over 500 people though the doors at Serenity House last year. Their funding from the government was completely cut, and we managed to raise around 2,000 euros!”

Don’t miss the Spring Craft Fair at the Delacroix Bar next Saturday March 3, from 11am-4pm. Admission £1, all proceeds donated directly to The Samaritans.