Mairead Carney - Citizens advice bureau worker to 'green' devotee

'Being more eco-friendly is saving me a small fortune now and it has improved our quality of life'

For Mairead Carney from Kiltimagh in Co Mayo, turning 'green' has helped her in her battle against the recession. The single mum had a full-time job in a citizen's advice bureau but when the crunch hit she had her week's work cut to just three days.

Luckily for her, she had just started to be eco-friendly and her lifestyle change is now cutting her household bills, making it easier to get by with the sudden change in income.

Mairead only began becoming more green after she won a competition on Today FM's Last Word show. Her reward for becoming more eco-friendly was a €10,000 sustainability makeover to make her house more cost-effective to run.

"Being more eco-friendly is saving me a small fortune now. And it has improved the way myself and my teenage daughter interact and also our quality of life."

She says she is now more energetic and charismatic in these gloomy recessionary days. Mairead has also re-educated 15-year-old daughter Saoirse to become more environmentally conscious and as a result Saoirse now asks for less and borrows clothes if she is going to a party rather than looking for money to buy new stuff; she is completely involved in her mother's new way of thinking and living.

Even the local parish priest is turning green. "He is trying to get the congregation to save money and the environment in these tough times and it's actually working. He told everyone what I was doing from the pulpit one Sunday and it was great," says Mairead.

To try and keep the spending down she is now sharing supermarket trips with neighbours and friends to save on petrol and emissions and she now takes the train whenever possible, leaving the car at home.

"I am now growing vegetables in my garden, watching how much water I use and re-cycling everything. I did things like replacing the electric blankets with hot water bottles, putting aluminium foil behind the radiators to reflect the heat into the room and I reduced the thermostat for the rads and boiler. I am also putting clothes on the line when I can instead of automatically throwing them into the tumble dryer.

"They are all small steps. I wasn't on a three-day week when I started the competition but it's amazing how things can change overnight. As a single parent, it can be difficult enough but I would urge everyone to start watching their carbon footprint now because these changes can really save you a lot of money.

"What I am trying to do now is to set up a community garden, get everyone involved by growing vegetables that we can all use in our own homes and then if there are cabbages, lettuce etc left over we can then sell them on to local businesses and the hotel in the town. That will help save more money and get people eating healthy.

"Losing my full-time job was a huge blow and because of the downturn our home turned into negative equity – it was very worrying. When you have a regular income you live life to the full but when you are forced to look at every penny and see where it is going then the problems start. For me, the recession is now that bit easier to cope with having changed how I am living. We all take things for granted and sometimes it takes a big shock to make people sit up and take notice."

Brian Kenny - Civil engineer to sweet shop owner

'I had never worked in a shop before, never opened a cash register and never really dealt with the public but I cannot believe the job-satisfaction I have got'

Brian Kenny, a father of three from Kilkenny city has been given a whole new lease of life thanks to the recession. Having worked as a civil engineer for more than 20 years he was initially devastated to be told the archaeological company he had worked for for over six years had to let him go.

"I couldn't believe it was happening," said Brian. "I had never gone through anything like this before and with three young children it was huge shock. To make matters worse my wife was put on a three-day week and we didn't know where to turn. I was told that I wasn't eligible for the job seekers' allowance and was simply left with no support whatsoever.

"The company I had been working for had got into a bit of trouble and it all hit very rapidly. So I started to look for other work in my field thinking that with all my experience it wouldn't be hard to find a job. But there was nothing out there in engineering. I was on a shortlist of two people for one job and was very confident but then the company decided to pull the job altogether. It was very disheartening.

"So with no work on the horizon my wife and I sat down and started to come up with a few ideas. One of them was for an 'olde worlde' type sweet shop. It was an odd idea, as I had never worked in a shop before, never opened a cash register and never really dealt with the public, but I cannot believe the job-satisfaction I have got since starting up just a few weeks ago.

"We found a little premises called The Slip Sweet Shop on Butterslip in Kilkenny city and it seemed ideal for what we wanted so all the family pulled together to decorate and plan the inside. We have a sweet tree laden down with candy sticks and the whole shop is filled with jars of sweets that we all remember from when we were kids – pear drops, cough sweets, apple drops, clove rock, macaroon bars, bulls eyes and aniseed balls.

"People love walking around and looking at all the jars of sweets and reminiscing about what they used to buy when they were kids. They all say that it's great to buy a quarter of bon bons say and walk away with your little paper bag of goodies. It has been a great hit and the tourists love it.

"Kilkenny is a really traditional city anyway and the shop fits in perfectly. We started up with nothing as the bank refused to lend us anything unless we put our home up as collateral so we have invested everything we have in the business but we are loving every minute of it.

"It will take a while before we start to break even, but it's great to see the faces of people when they walk in and look around at all the see-through jars of confectionary. It's so different to the usual newsagents where you can just pick up a bar of chocolate and a packet of crisps. People actually spend time looking around and sometimes the choice is so great that they just don't know what to pick.

"I would never have imagined doing anything like this and it is so different to what I am used to, but I am so much happier. The recession initially caused us a lot of worry but with a bit of luck we will make our little shop a huge success. Staying positive is the key."

Brian O'Leary - Banker to butcher

'It's a good feeling to know that every €10 that comes into the business goes back to my family and not to the banking top brass'

'After trading for AIB in London for seven years, and Anglo Irish in Dublin for six, I decided to jump ship and go into the butcher business.

"When I initially left the banking world for butchering, those I worked with in the bank thought I was crazy. But every day consisted of worrying where different currencies were at, taking big risks with huge amounts of money – and raking in the cash for the fat cats.

"Though at the time I could have got a job with Bank of Ireland, the lifestyle was far too stressful and I decided to leave in 2008.

"Admittedly, there was big money involved in my previous job and while that was a huge bonus it was in no way a fulfilling way to live. I also felt with the economic collapse the emphasis had shifted back onto the public and their needs, and I joined my brother and father and became a butcher.

"It was a bit of a shock at first, but I'm out on my own now doing what I want to do and it's a good feeling to know that every €10 that comes into the business goes right back to my family and not the banking top brass.

"But when I took on the new career, it was not as a half measure. I approached my brother and father, who were run off their feet and told them I wanted to expand the business countrywide, and despite the recession we have a new superstore opening up in Swords, and we have been approached with franchise offers and offers to open up chains in the south-east of the country.

"Because of the current financial situation, we're going to halt progress after the new store in Swords until a later date.

"From a banker's perspective, things are disastrous at the moment and they are going to get a lot worse before they get any better.

"I don't believe Nama is the answer to any of our problems and I predict property prices to fall at least another 20%. It will be a long time before things blow over. There are, however, good aspects to this as things are normalising and a lot of the greed I would have come into contact with day after day is starting to dissipate. There was an awful lot of gambling with money involved in my old trade – but banks can't be seen to be taking those kind of risks anymore.

"From a butcher's perspective, everything revolves around serving the public now. We provide quality meat and food to as wide a customer base as possible and customers recognise good value now more than ever.

"Once the general public know they are not being ripped off, business for us booms and so we are run off our feet.

"I would not go back – I'm doing things my own way now. I can decide when I want to take a holiday or a day off. I'm my own boss, and I'm working for my own family and the public now."

Jennifer Bray

Orla Cotter - Television researcher to florist

'I did my first wedding flowers about two months ago and while the stress was similar to my old days in the media (I was awake all night), the rewards were far more satisfying'

Orla Cotter realised that her career in the media was no longer secure so she changed direction and opened her own online florists.

"I had worked in my dream job for eight years in the media and I loved it. Throughout my time in media I experienced all different types of programmes and mediums and I always raved on about how the variety of my career was so wonderful. One contract would end and I'd move onto the next – new workmates, fresh ideas, different programme formats – it was so exciting. But after a few years I started to get tired of it all.

"By the end of 2008 I wasn't happy with my 'dream career' anymore. It became a chore and for the first time job security became a big issue. Jobs in the business were dwindling and we had heard that RTE would be pulling back on contracts and so there would be
very little prospect of more work. I realised too that I just didn't care about the job the way I used to and everyone in the industry was becoming disheartened.

"Disregarding the air of doom and gloom that had started to emerge about the recession I decided to go ahead and change career path and I knew that I had to look at doing something that would make me happy, something that I could look forward to everyday. Whenever I felt stressed or unhappy after a day's work, I'd pick-up some fresh, fragrant colourful flowers to cheer me up. The instantaneously positive effect of blooms on your mood is incredible and I just thought one morning – why can't I work with flowers?

"This idea kept gathering momentum in my head until I finally announced my drastic career change to everyone – I was going to be a florist. Things just started to come together after that. A friend came up with a name for my online shop,, and within a day I had registered the name for a website. I finished my final contract in TV and set forth into the unknown. Armed with a completely irrelevant degree I set about getting professional training, and completed two floristry courses.

"At this stage the economy was getting progressively worse, but my spirits were high and climbing rapidly. I was happy, contented and driven again. I would be my own boss for once and shape my own fortunes. One business course and a website built by my boyfriend later, the government confirmed that we were in a recession.

"This did nothing to deter me, except for holding off my launch date. I also had to ensure all my finances were in order, so that I had a certain degree of security. Lots of people would automatically say things like 'God, it's an awful time to start a business' but others said more encouraging things like 'Fair play, I'd love to do that myself'.

"I did my first wedding flowers about two months ago and while the stress was similar to my old days in media (I was awake all night), the rewards were far more satisfying. But I have far to go – a well-known florist said to me recently 'I've been doing this for 30 years, and I still learn something new about flowers everyday'. I think that's great – it keeps it interesting. It's definitely not as easy as I thought it would be, but I'm getting there through trial and error.

"Orders and enquiries are coming in more as the word spreads, so I'm lucky. I've learned quickly that in these economically uncertain times you have to be constantly thinking of new ideas and ways to diversify. That's what makes starting a business during a recession so challenging, but that aspect also makes it more alluring."

Fidelma Farley - College lecturer to self-help guru

'When people talk about the recession I always think how lucky I was to have changed career'

Fidelma Farley is one woman who decided to turn a potentially bad situation into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. At 41, the Dubliner had a life-changing experience that not only helped her but now also helps others to de-stress and make the best of life.

"I did a PhD at UCD in film studies and women's studies and lectured to make the money to pay my fees and support myself," says Fidelma. "I was lucky enough to get a full-time job with the film studies department at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland back in 1997. Even though I liked the work there and made plenty of friends, I was increasingly homesick and in 2003 I took a year's leave to come back to Ireland.

"I spent a year doing part-time teaching at UCD and Trinity, then a year later got a two-year research scholarship at NUI Galway. Initially I was delighted with myself but the process of researching and writing eventually took its toll on my body and left me very stressed and anxious, so I decided to learn to meditate as a way of coping with the stress.

"I loved the meditation and found that it took effect very quickly, so I kept it up by regular practice and by going on retreats run by the Dublin Buddhist Centre, where I learned how to relax and meditate.

"Then my two-year contract in Galway came to an end and the only work available in my area was either part-time or hourly-paid teaching. I needed the money and realised that it would be a struggle to get any full-time work in this field. I had become quite detached from what I was doing by this time and I spent more and more time on my meditation practice. I eventually decided that if I was to have a career change it would definitely be in teaching meditation.

"So I trained with a UK-based company called Breathworks, who taught me the practice of mindfulness and meditation for the management of pain, illness or stress. I loved it and I now teach living well with pain and illness courses – for people with chronic pain or a long-term health condition, living well with MS, for the MS Society and along with a colleague, we teach a course for carers. I also teach a course on the loving kindness meditation practice.

"It's amazing how my life has changed. I now have a website, – it's pretty basic at the moment, but I'm working on a more detailed one, which should be ready in the next while. When people talk about the recession I always think how lucky I was to have made a decision early to change my career path. I know it may be difficult for some people who lose their jobs to come up with an idea that will turn things around for them but it worked for me and thankfully, I have never looked back."