ONLY weeks after it was saved from the city council axe, the latest youngsters at The Engine Shed have proudly stepped forward to graduate from the centre.
Eleven individuals, aged 18 to 24, are the latest to successfully complete their training at the social enterprise business, culminating in them being awarded food hygiene certificates.
The nationally recognised qualification is one of the many ways The Engine Shed is helping people with learning difficulties get into mainstream work.
And in a major sign of the centre’s continued importance, two of the class of 2013 have already found jobs.
The Engine Shed’s chief executive, Marian MacDonald, said it was a happy occasion at the end of a difficult few months.
She said: “[It’s all] about celebrating their achievements. Each and every one of them have done incredibly well.”
Before the graduates started on the three-year programme, everyday tasks such as catching the bus by themselves or socialising in groups were a daunting prospect. Serving customers or creating culinary delights for its vegetarian cafe would have been virtually unthinkable.
But the beaming smiles and brimming confidence of the latest trainees preparing to leave is testament not only to their hard work, but the dedication of staff who have patiently helped them reach this momentous milestone.
Since it opened its doors nearly 25 years ago, hundreds of individuals have benefited from the training scheme that hopes to provide a stepping stone between home and working life.
The much-loved cafe and bakery, which survives on a £211,200 annual grant, had been under threat after the council planned to withdraw its funding. But its plight was highlighted in the Evening News, and a huge campaign was launched to save the vital facility, with a petition set up by Learning Disability Alliance Scotland attracting more than 10,300 signatures.
The level of public outcry led to the council agreeing to fund the project for another financial year, but its long-term future is still in question.
Ewan Blaikie, 21, successfully completed the three-year scheme which saw him going to work at the St Leonard’s Place centre from 8.30am to 4pm, five days a week.
Partially sighted and autistic, he has grown in confidence and developed increased independence.
Now Ewan, from Newington, is spending three days a week gardening with Enable Scotland, and hopes he will get a paid job soon.
“It has improved my confidence and it has taught me about the world of work and time-keeping,” he says, cheerfully munching on a piece of quiche he has previously helped make. “It has given me a lot of new skills. I am working with Enable Scotland gardening, and I’m doing one day a week at the Edinburgh Marriott where I’m cleaning.”
His mum, Susan, 51, said Ewan had come on leaps and bounds in three years.
The accounts administrator firmly believes the scheme is beneficial not just for the individuals, but society as a whole.
“It has been brilliant for Ewan. He has learned things like how to follow a task through, it has developed his confidence, independence and given him a real social life.”
While one of the graduates was unable to attend, the others collect their certificates and could not hide what it means for them and their families.
Stephanie Bell, a business liaison adviser in hospitality, food and tourism at Borders College, which has supported the food safety training for the past two years, said: “It gives individuals an opportunity to develop skills that they can take with them into a real working world. The five candidates involved last year and 11 this year all passed which is brilliant. To see their faces when they were presented with the certificates is wonderful. They all worked extremely hard.”
‘It’s a dream to get this role’
Anna Gyongy, 25, from Newington, has just started a job working at Starbucks at Fort Kinnaird after completing the three-year course at The Engine Shed.
Anna, who has Down’s syndrome, said she is now employed in her “dream job.”
She said: “It’s a very good place to work and it has got very good people to work with.
“I always wanted to get a job at Starbucks. I enjoy cleaning the tables when the customers leave and I also enjoy the atmosphere and the customers are lovely.
“I did enjoy my training at The Engine Shed before I got my job. It has helped me get my dream job.”
Originally from Hungary, and with brief spells in France and Spain, multilingual Anna had always wanted to work in the catering industry.
Dad Istvan, 62, a maths professor, said The Engine Shed had been instrumental to her success and happiness.
He said: “We are really grateful, I don’t think she could have achieved what she has without this place.
“It is a dream for her to be working there, from an early age she wanted to work in a cafe or restaurant. She does fantastically considering her condition. She loves playing the violin as well.
“I would like The Engine Shed to keep going forever.
“It is such a fantastic idea and useful place. It is much better for these children’s employment prospects after coming here.”
‘I enjoyed coming here’
Paul Knecht, 20, from Queensferry recently started a job at The Salisbury Arms in Southside where he is now working as an assistant chef.
The former Woodlands pupil was delighted to be offered the job at the highly-rated pub.
He said: “I always wanted to be a chef. When I’m at home I am always in the kitchen making things.
“It’s amazing. There’s different salads that I didn’t know how to make. Now I know how to make them all.
“I am helping chefs in the kitchen. I do the preparation work just now. I would like to work my way up there so I am doing everything a chef does.
“Mum and dad are really proud that I have got a job.”
Paul did the full three-years at The Engine Shed and attended the graduation ceremony in his new uniform.
He said the course had helped him build confidence and develop the skills needed to do his new job.
He added: “I enjoyed coming here and have made some really good friends.”
Proud training officer Kath Bellamy said: “It is fantastic to see them go into jobs, Paul has done really well.”