When The Engine Shed closed in March of this year Edinburgh lost a treasured local asset. Now there’s a proposal in front of the council that would keep the asset in community hands.
St Leonard’s Yard is the name of a proposal to create a hive of food activity from the building by housing food social enterprises which would open a cafe; a bakery; and provide kitchen space, events, cooking classes and anything that brings people together over a love of food.
We can’t bring back the training that The Engine Shed offered to young people with disabilities. The service was unique and took 25 years to perfect. What we can do is offer an alternative to commercial use of the building by bringing together Edinburgh’s food social enterprises to serve the community.
Our proposal came about after a series of conversations and meetings between local residents and Edinburgh food social enterprises. One local resident in particular, Alison Neathey, talked to dozens of people including me – the co-founder of The Crags Centre, a charity just five minutes’ walk from The Engine Shed building.
We’ve teamed up with another successful social enterprise, Breadshare Community Bakery, and a new social enterprise called The Food Social (owned by the operators of the Edinburgh Larder Cafe and Bistro) to form the three anchor tenants of the building.
Breadshare would operate a community bakery on the ground floor. The Food Social would open a family-friendly cafe with great local food and excellent coffee. The Crags will make use of the top floor, offering workshop, conference, meeting and office spaces. The public-facing facilities would also be used for cooking skills training, food shows and family cooking workshops.
There are four additional kitchens in the building which would be hired out to Edinburgh micro-producers and smaller food social enterprises. These producers make sauce, frozen yoghurt, dumplings, mead and fruit wines, fruit juice – you name it. Many of them are bulging at the seams of their home or small commercial kitchens and need a flexibile solution to help their enterprises grow.
The anchor tenants and the micro-producers would team up to run regular events using the car park and back garden. Imagine a wee festival that promotes local Edinburgh food where you can chat direct with the producer, buy a few samples and enjoy a good coffee at the same time. Together, we want to provide great quality local food to the people of Edinburgh while helping alleviate food poverty, creating employment and engaging volunteers.
We don’t envy the job facing councillors and staff as they balance the social and financial needs of the city. The recent decision over the use of Boroughmuir High School highlights the difficulties involved. It’s our hope that the opportunity to create a lasting positive legacy from The Engine Shed building is recognised and supported.
Simon Turner is co-founder of The Crags Centre