An explorer unafraid of the unknown

Antarctic explorer Tom Crean survived extreme conditions to make it to parts of the world where no human being had ever travelled before. His life story is one of gritty heroism; the struggle involved in getting from one place to another - no matter what. John Crean from Ratoath says that, as far as he knows, he is no relation to the famous explorer. He adds with a laugh that he is also something of an adventurer, someone who is travelling into the unknown, in unfamiliar terrain, scanning the landscape for directions as he goes along. Towards the end of last year, Crean, who is in his mid-40s, was made redundant from his job with a Dublin-based insurance brokers. He had spent almost 25 years in the insurance business and generally enjoyed the work as a broker and underwriter. He has since sought to mark out a new trail for himself by setting up a self-help group for unemployed people in the Ratoath area. The group was formed earlier this year and those interested in putting forward and exploring new ideas were invited to attend. Crean - who is originally from Wexford but who has lived in Ratoath for 10 years - contacted local politician Nick Killian who supported the idea. Crean told friends and acquaintances. The word was soon out on the street that the group was meeting and Crean was more than surprised when a large contingent showed up on the first morning. 'What I wanted was that I would meet with other people who had lost their job and who had the same sort of issues. After I was made redundant, I would be up during the night wondering: 'What am I going to do?". Not in a panic, but wondering,' he says. 'And I thought there must be other people around the place who are in the same situation as I am. I talked to Nick and I talked to a couple of lads I know locally. I said: 'Look, why don"t we meet up and we would do it, say, at 11 o"clock on a Tuesday morning, we can have a discussion and maybe we can see if we can come up with some ideas because it"s the only way we are going to get a job,' he adds. The first morning, 25 people showed up, male and female. Most of them were professionals. There were health and safety people, architects, sales managers, plumbers. Business consultants came, offered their time free and chaired the meetings. Discussion 'I wanted it as a group where if you came in this week and said, 'What about setting up a window washing company in Ratoath?", the idea would be discussed, people would either encourage you or give reasons why it wouldn"t work; it would be a team effort rather than anything on an individual basis. At least you would have a network of people there who can help you. People might say, 'I know somebody who could help you in that project, I"ll give them a ring for you",' adds Crean. The group continues in existence, although John says it has taken a different direction than what he had originally envisaged. He feels the focus needs to be always on helping people to develop new ideas, assist them in overcoming the practicalities of creating a job. Setting up the group was part of John"s way of reacting to the news that he would be made redundant. He had known for some time what was coming down the line and had sought to prepare himself for the bad news. He received a 'decent' salary in his old job. Then, last November, his world was turned upside down when he learned that he would be one of the victims of the sharp economic decline. Of course, he had heard the rumours. He had watched as firms closed their doors and he knew that, sooner or later, some branches of the insurance sector would be hit hard. He wasn"t wrong. Still, when the redundancy notice finally arrived on his desk, it was still something of a shock. 'There"s an element of anger comes into it - anger, worry; worry about the future; being realistic, who is going to pay me the wage I was on? They"re still real issues,' recalls Crean, who lives in Ratoath with his partner, Valerie, and their daughter, Kayleigh. 'I had an easy few months because I was there doing my own thing. There was no big panic on; I kept applying for jobs, I realised very soon people were not going to pay me the money I was on and possibly not even interview me. And if they were going to talk to me, there was going to be a reduction in salary. Getting interviews and even replies was the major problem.' John regards himself as fighter, someone who is determined not to let the current climate get the better of him. He sought to keep himself busy and he has worked on maintaining a positive outlook. He knows people who have packed it in; who have given up looking for a job. One man he knows has stopped playing his bills. John Crean"s view is that there is victory in refusing to yield. He has kept busy, doing bits and pieces, always looking for an opening. 'You can let yourself get disheartened. I don"t. I get up and get out,' he says. 'Mental motivation very important; I don"t have it every day but I have it most days; it"s very important. You have to stay in the game until something works out the far side.' It"s not unlike the kind of attitude that helped his namesake make it across the vast frozen wastes of the Antarctic in the early 1900s. Do you have a positive story to tell arising out of the current recession? If so, email or telephone (046) 907 9619 and tell us about it.