AN acclaimed training scheme which has successfully transformed the working lives of young people with learning disabilities for quarter of a century has lost its desperate bid to remain open.
The Engine Shed, a bakery and cafe operated by 30 vulnerable young adults and used as a stepping stone into full employment, fought back from the brink of closure last year after a funding crisis sparked a major campaign to retain its unique services.
However it’s now emerged that its £211,000 funding from the city council, which makes up around 40 per cent of its income, will run out for good in March next year under plans for a new city-wide support service.
That, combined with rising costs and a shortfall in income from the sale of Engine Shed products, means the service which has eased thousands of young adults into work over the past 25 years will finally close.
Marian MacDonald, chief executive of the St Leonard’s facility, said the funding needed to survive would not be available from any other source. While the bakery and cafe will shut, she stressed it is hoped the expertise and knowledge built up during the time it has been open may eventually form the basis for another scheme. “We are very sad the kind of service we offer can’t continue. Financially, that’s based on someone needing to pay for the training we provide, and that’s not going to happen.
“It is very early days, but there’s a hope we could take our experience and set up something else but it would not be able to offer such an intensive support package.”
Parents of young people working at the facility are due to meet management in the next few days to discuss what may happen next. Some of the 30 trainees will be nearing the end of their three-year programme by the time the service closes, however others will leave with just six months’ experience.
Sarah Boyack MSP described the decision to close as “bitterly disappointing”. “In recent years we’ve lost Remploy and Blindcraft. The Engine Shed is the latest addition to that list and I’m angry that opportunities for people with disabilities to get a decent chance of work have been removed.”
Councillor Frank Ross, convener of the Economy Committee, said the city-wide employment support service was aimed at giving disabled people the best chance of finding a job.
He said: “We’ve been working closely with all of the service providers which have grant funding until March 2015, including the Engine Shed, to ensure they’ve been given the opportunity to be part of this new, more effective service.”
Ian Hood of Learning Disability Alliance Scotland, which fought to keep The Engine Shed open last year, said he feared for the vulnerable.
“What the council wants to do is help young people move straight to work with some support. But not all young people are ready for the workplace. The Engine Shed was helpful for them, they were able to work in a real environment with other people and a lot went on to get jobs afterwards.”
Training style not council’s vision
THE Engine Shed opened in 1989 and offers three years’ work-based training for up to 30 young adults at a time, equipping them with skills, daily routine and confidence needed to move into a mainstream job.
As well as a cafe and bakery, it provides conference facilities and outside catering, run from premises it leases from the city council alongside the old Innocent Railway line. It works with major employers such as NHS Lothian and many of its ‘graduates’ have moved into full-time work.
Its future became uncertain last May after it emerged its style of training no longer fitted the city council’s vision of how disabled people should be supported in the workplace.
The council announced plans for a city-wide support service to be launched next March.
Four other groups working with disabled people – Enable, Forth Sector, Action Group and Intowork – have adjusted their services in preparation for the new system and formed a consortium. The Engine Shed opted not to be involved in the consortium.