Social enterprise gives people tools to carve their own future

by Bernie English

TO ANY passerby, the Chisel and Oak premises on O’Curry Street in the city looks almost like a lock-up garage. But, behind the unassuming exterior there is a world of good work and social support.

The not-for-profit company was the brainchild of Derrick Amrein, a Limerick man involved in social enterprise who wanted to offer an opportunity to young people who were finding it difficult to find their career way in the world.

Four years ago, Derrick read an academic paper on youth deprivation and unemployment and he was disturbed to learn that eight of the most deprived areas in that regard were in Limerick and had been so for years.

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“I could see there was a need to provide training that would lead to real employment and speaking with people involved with the Men’s Sheds movement, Chisel and Oak was set up,” he told the Limerick Post.

The scheme took on 12 young people, selected through interviews from applicants who mostly came via the Men’s Sheds and Enterprise Limerick.

All the apprentices are trained in carpentry and upholstery skills to Level 4 VTCT and one has already moved on to the Bespoke Level A Course in furniture design through the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology.

The apprentices are trained by retired professional woodwork teachers, upholsterers and joiners, all of whom give their time voluntarily.

Apprentices also learn about repairing and upcycling bicycles, which are then sold on.

But that’s just one aspect of the good work that goes on quietly behind those doors.

“When the Ukrainian war broke out, Fr Seamus Enright from the Redemptorists got in touch and asked of we could help pack boxes and load pallets with supplies being sent to Ukraine. We packed 127 pallets,” Derrick explained.

But the needs of Ukrainians arriving with nothing was as great as the need to get supplies over there and when he was asked if it would be possible to set up a hub on the Chisel and Oak premises, Derrick and his crew got stuck in.

They set up a ‘zero cost’ shop providing supplies of clothes, toiletries and other essentials for refugees arriving here. The Limerick Youth Service are providing supplies of traditional Ukrainian bread to give arrivals a taste of home.

“But people need more, They needed to be able to talk about their experience and they needed other kinds of support and help. Some of the people arriving now are the poorer ones, who got out later and they may have travelled in large numbers in cramped vans for days at a time and they are travelling for weeks. They’re crippled when they arrive.”

An associate of Derrick’s, Edel Ryan, a specialist in therapeutic massage is in the process of setting up a new HQ for her business in a neighbouring space to Chisel and Oak and when she heard about the physical problems being faced by the arriving refugees, she and members of her staff set to, providing free massage and exercise.

The hub, which is still under construction and needs a lot of work, already offers the free shop, Tai’ Chi classes and magic shows for the children at the weekends.

Derrick said the hub is now expanding and they are raising funds to do that. They are getting support from Duncan and Derek Stuart of Eco Eye fame to put in Geothermal heating, which will make then the first commercial concern in Limerick to use a totally renewable hating source.

“The Ukrainian people who come here are lovely and one thing we have noticed about them is they all want to work.

“Most of them speak very good English and we’re putting them in contact with employers in the hospitality industry, particularly, as that sector is finding it hard to get people. Quite a number have already started in jobs,” said Derrick.

Anyone who would like to contact Derrick and Chisel and Oak to offer donations of goods, buy goods or get more information about the apprenticeships or hiring staff should email him at