Ryan's Cookie Box brings a little sweetness to Co Down countryside
LAST Thursday morning dawned bright and clear and I was off to visit a mini-empire on the fringes of Ballynahinch to meet a young entrepreneur.
Ryan Bogues has been hitting the headlines since winning a Youth and Future Talent Award but it wasn’t long before I discovered that the story behind the story is the real story, a ‘back story’ as they call it on X Factor.
Along Drumnaconagher Road I came on colourful signs welcoming me to the ‘Ponderosa’ and there was Ryan’s Cookie Box filled with packets of homemade cakes.
All you do is stop the car, select what you want and leave the appropriate money in the honesty box.
Sitting in the kitchen of his home in the heart of the Co Down countryside, bluebells and whin bushes all round, two cats and roaming hedgehogs in attendance, I met the family minus David and Nicki who now work and live away from ‘the mothership’ as Hazel Bogues call her happy home.
Joe was digging out foundations for his daughter Laura’s new shed where she will study and write. Ryan already has his garden room for private time researching houses for sale, not because he wants to move, just because be has a fascination with property.
At the hub is Hazel and over a cup of tea, one of Ryan’s chocolate cookies and with the smell of baking all around, the five of us sat and talked. I felt accepted when Ryan came over and gave me a hug.
“He’s totally good,” his mum said when her son left the room. “Good and loving but human – he can be a wee rascal!” she added.
Because Ryan was born with Down's syndrome, it's been a struggle for his parents as they endeavoured to put this fine young man into the best educational situation.
“Having a brass neck doesn’t come easily but when you're fighting for your child you’ll go the extra mile.”
When Ryan was born 21 years ago, Joe and Hazel were determined he would have every advantage available. After primary school the battle began with authorities who wanted to assist him into special-needs schooling.
They fought the education board and won but it took strength and courage.
“On meeting one prospective teacher, she was very offhand. ‘How do you explain to Ryan what a Liebig condenser is?’ She was just putting up obstructions so my attitude was, 'Your loss, guys.'
"Teachers and their approach is so important. In Holy Family Primary headmaster Denis Cahill said: ‘Ryan, we look forward to welcoming you here to P1’ and P4 teacher Anne Monaghan started him on the road to helping charities. When he moved to secondary, to Rowallane Integrated College as it was then, the principle Olwen Griffith welcomed him with open arms.
"When I talked to Olwen initially she admitted she’d didn’t know much about Down's syndrome but she said, 'Let’s give it a go'. I just thought, you’re the girl for me.”
The downside was the board wouldn’t provide a classroom assistant for Ryan so the Bogues paid for one themselves, with Hazel filling in when she wasn't working.
There’s no doubt this family have ploughed a furrow for others. They didn’t give in to bureaucracy, they researched the situation, worked with the Down's Syndrome Association and a solicitor from Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA), a national charity providing free legally based advice to families who have children with special educational needs or disabilities.
As a result they’ve a young man with a business, involved in sourcing the material for his baking, buying packaging from China, counting the money and dealing with the bank and it’s all done with colour and humour.
When the door of the honesty box opens a little quirky voice sings, ‘Do you want to by a cookie?’ There are fairy lights all round and bright signs among the last of the daffodils.
“Not only do people leave the right money, but usually a little extra because it’s for charity. And sometimes we get presents – yesterday someone left a boomerang and a couple of days ago we had a note from a lady saying she was having a hard time and Ryan’s cookies had brightened her day.”
Our conversation is halted every now and again by “Oh, Quick” as Hazel dashes to the oven to take out another batch of chocolate brownies or succulent scones.
“We work together because there’s such a demand. I’m Ryan’s helper!"
His interests are wide: go-carting, wrestling, gardening, looking after his grandfather, music and art among them. He’s in touch with people around the world through Facebook and especially with Suzi Moffat from Heart and Sold, a charity that gives artists with Down's Syndrome, their family and friends, an opportunity to create, educate, inspire, sell and most importantly promote the idea that art is from the heart and has nothing to do with the condition.
While at mainstream school, Ryan completed an art project based on the theme of doors. His detailed photographs of doors in the old town of Downpatrick were subsequently made into Christmas cards.
Many charities benefit from his fundraising (last month over £500) mainly at home, sometimes abroad, most recently a donation to Teconnaught School who want to build a mud kitchen, to Marie Curie Cancer Care where his mother works and Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Join Ryan on Facebook – Ryan’s Cookie Box – for more about this remarkable young man.
For details about IPSEA www.ipsea.org.uk and Heart and Sold at www.heartandsold.org.uk .
THE PLAY’S THE THING
Ulster Drama Festival time again. This week the Theatre at the Mill hosts the six award winning productions from North and South before the overall winner is announced on Saturday 21st May. More at www.theatreatthemill.com