First Minister Nicola Sturgeon opens Scotland's first ever university-style campus for disabled learners in Leith
The first university campus for adults with learning disabilities in Scotland has opened its doors in Leith.
Yesterday afternoon, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cut the ribbon unveiling Upmo Campus, a new education hub offering adults with learning disabilities and autism the chance to gain life skills, increase their confidence and reduce their reliance on carers.
The new facilities will resemble a university campus and will feature a timetable of different classes as well as a canteen, student union and even onsite accommodation similar to university halls.
Upmo is a non-profit organisation in Edinburgh which has been providing daily activities for adults with learning disabilities in Edinburgh and the Lothians for the last 19 years.
Now it has undergone a huge revamp and has created an innovative new model of social care, the first of its kind in Scotland.
Opening the new campus, the First Minister said it was “inspiring” to see the “ambitious expansion” the organisation has undergone.
The centre will open in phases, starting with the newly established HQ and Employment Centre at Links House.
Early next year the campus will extend to include a new art department at Duncan Place and a performing arts hub as Swanfield. The performing arts hub will provide a dance studio, rehearsal room, and performance room.
Jemma Hutton, 23, from Muirhouse has attended Upmo for four years and is “looking forward” to using the new centre as she “loves drama”.
Jemma began coming to Upmo after leaving college because her learning disabilities meant she found the environment “overwhelming”.
She said the college was “too busy” and she found it too much but that the smaller class sizes and individual learning plans at Upmo helped her to “learn better”.
The campus will also include a student-managed retail shop on Great Junction Street and the Yoyo Cafe at Leith Victoria Swim Centre, both of which will be open to the public and help integrate learning disabled people in their communities.
These services will be run by students for students but will also be open to the public and will be available to hire by the local community in the evenings and weekends.
This will give the students a chance to integrate with their local community and learn social skills.
It will also allow them to experience employment in a supported environment and bridge the gap between education and work, helping their students move on from the classroom and into workplaces in Edinburgh.
Jemma said that while she “does not feel ready” to enter the workplace yet she is excited to continue to develop her skills with Upmo so that one day she can have a full-time job.
Founder Josh Barton said that the new Leith campus will help the charity take their “curriculum for dignity” to a new level.
He said: “We want our students to experience the same cultural, social and life-affirming experiences their peers take for granted.
“The purpose of the campus is to support the growth and development of community spaces, where people feel welcome regardless of their ability and have a part to play in its regeneration and integration.”
He went on to say that the most common barrier his students face is social and the campus will provide a space for “making meaningful friendships” and “reducing isolation”.
He said: “We know from our students that the most significant barriers faced are often social.
“Rather than having a sense of belonging within the communities where they live, they can often feel invisible with no real purpose.”
Stuart Hislop, 39, from Leith, has been attending Upmo for seven years and said that the facility helped him find a community and make friends.
Now living independently in Leith, Stuart enjoys being able to walk to campus by himself each day. Founder Josh explained that this accessible aspect is at the heart of the new development and they want to make the campus a place where you “just bump into your friends on your way to class”.
Staff at Upmo say that the idea behind the campus is not just about education but about creating a completely different type of care.
They believe that the opening of the campus will not just help improve the lives of their students but will “transform” the whole community of Edinburgh for the better.
Josh said: “Edinburgh has an amazing university system but we have a whole section of society left out.
“When you see people getting support out in the community and you see a member of staff on their phone and someone trailing behind them, that is apparently them being supported.
“While the way support is lined up today is far better than it was, we are not providing meaningful integrations and we have isolated people in our society.
“I really believe that if we bring this section of society into the community, Edinburgh will be a happier and healthier community.
“We have the opportunity with the Upmo Campus to lead Edinburgh and Scotland into a new type of care. This campus will be a life-changing experience not just for our students and staff but the whole of Edinburgh as a community.”
In her visit to the new premises, the First Minister said: “It was inspiring to meet so many dedicated staff who are committed to not only improving the lives of the young adults they work with, but the wider community too.
“Upmo already provides innovative opportunities and tailored support to adults with learning difficulties and autism, and these ambitious expansion plans will allow the charity to create an even more diverse curriculum than ever before.”