I’m from Manorhamilton in north Leitrim. I grew up on a farm. My father died when I was 10 and my brother took over the farm at a young age.

My family are still involved in farming. However, my own farming activities are currently limited to hens and horticulture.

Now I live in Leitrim Village, outside Carrick-on-Shannon. We’re just along the Shannon Blueway, so it’s really nice.

I started off in the food industry. My primary degree was food technology and I studied community development as well. I also did a master’s in communications.

So for about 15 years I worked in the food industry and in rural/community development.

It was very full-on and ultimately I ended up managing people as opposed to being hands on myself. As time went on I just found [that with] people management, I wasn’t fulfilled by it.

About seven or eight years ago when our kids were small – we’ve identical twin girls – I found that I was juggling childcare and working long hours. My husband had taken a career break and had gone back to college.

Helena Golden now runs online basket making courses.

Once my husband graduated and set himself up in a new career that he was happy with, I took a bit of a plunge and I gave up my full-time management role. I moved to a part-time job that had a lot less responsibility, but still, I was in an environment where I was meeting people and working with people, so there was still a social side to it.

This gave me the freedom to pursue other things that I probably didn’t have the confidence to pursue when I was younger. I was always interested in creative things. My mother is really creative. She’s one of those people who can just turn her hand to anything. She can crochet, bake and paint, all those. I always felt there was a bit of that in me.

Horses for courses

Changing jobs gave me headspace and time. Family life was better balanced. I tentatively did a couple of recreational courses in basket making, wherever I could find them.

I did a few courses in particular with Tom O’Brien, he’s a lovely basket maker. It was Tom that subtly gave me the confidence to think, I’m OK at this, I can do it.

I initially started with a very brave first step, I went to a market, Strandhill People’s Market, selling things I’d made.

Helena Golden stepped back from her management job to pursue basket making.

I got a really nice response in Strandhill, but I suppose the overwhelming question I was being asked was: “Do you do courses?”

The year before last, I just organised a couple of one day courses. You know what, I didn’t even have to advertise them because from the markets so many people had just left their name and number with me and said: “If you ever starting doing courses, let me know.”

I ran courses here in Leitrim Village, people travelled to them. The feedback was great, I was happy out. Then last year I was planning more courses and I had setup the business properly. I called it, Helen Golden – Willow Woman.

Then COVID happened and I was just thinking, what do I do? I honestly don’t know how I came up with the idea of doing basket making courses online.

When we’re basket making, it’s dried willow we use. So that willow has to be soaked for at least four days, depending on the type of willow it is. This was the main issue that came into my head with an online course.

So anyway, I advertised a course. The way I get around it is, I send out the dried willow to participants and whatever else is needed for the course. Then I set everybody up in an email group and I follow up with an email giving them the exact instructions in terms of how they soak their willow and look after it.

I didn’t know how it was going to go. I said, “Let’s do one and see how it goes.” I was completely elated, I remember that feeling at the end of the first one. My husband said to me: “I wasn’t going to say it to you, but I didn’t think you’d pull that one off.”

As well as the online courses I organise myself, I’m doing a lot of groups through ETBs, county councils, women’s groups and local development companies. So the groups are largely coming to me now.

Changing times

I get a real kick out of what you can do when you have to. Needs must and move with the times, it’s all lifelong learning.

I still work part-time alongside doing the courses and selling my own wares. But it’s the teaching and learning element that’s the overwhelming success, really.

I think there’s a whole movement of stepping back to the old fashioned, simple living and the old fashioned skills.

I know I’m doing something completely different now to what I started off at, but I just think that’s the journey that life is. Had I not had all the other steps coming up to this, I wouldn’t be where I am now. You learn and gain from each experience.

I think change is great. My husband made a significant career change as well. I think it’s a good example to show to our children. It’s good to change, adapt and learn new things. That’s what life is all about.

One of the things I’m proud of is – I’ve travelled a lot, but in terms of my career, it’s largely been based in Leitrim and I just think that’s great. That I was able to use my education to benefit my own county.

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