Engine Shed learning difficulties centre saved

Sue Mclernon and her daughter Danielle celebrate the Engine Shed's reprieve. Picture: Toby Williams
Sue Mclernon and her daughter Danielle celebrate the Engine Shed's reprieve. Picture: Toby Williams
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CAMPAIGNERS were celebrating today after the Engine Shed was saved from the city council axe.

The respected project, which provides training for young people with learning difficulties, had looked set to lose its vital £211,200 annual council grant.

But after the plight of the much-loved cafe and bakery was highlighted in the Evening News, a huge campaign swung into action to ensure it would survive.

Comment: the council deserves credit for listening

In a major victory, the city council has now agreed to continue its funding for the next financial year at least, giving the project breathing space to secure its long-term future.

Engine Shed chairwoman Marian MacDonald said: “This is really positive news.

“The strength of the campaign really helped – it made people sit up and listen, and the council have obviously listened to people’s concerns.

“People made it quite clear just how they felt about the Engine Shed services disappearing.”

The lifeline project offers three years’ training to 30 young adults at a time, equipping them with skills and confidence to find a mainstream job.

It has been running for almost 25 years from its St Leonards base, helping hundreds of vulnerable young people over the years.

In May, a proposed shake-up of employment training for the disabled by the city council saw the organisation faced with being stripped of its funding.

A petition calling for the Engine Shed to be saved was set up by Learning Disability Alliance Scotland and was signed by more than 10,300 people.

Co-ordinator Ian Hood welcomed news of the reprieve.

He said: “It’s a mark of the maturity of the city council that they are prepared to listen to the concerns of thousands of people across the city who have said it’s unacceptable to target vulnerable people by withdrawing funding in this way.

“I’m happy that so many people have supported the Engine Shed and that councillors have finally listened.”

This decision to fund the service for another year will give councillors time to explore the options for the long-term funding of services that help people with disabilities into paid work.

Launched in 1989 with a similar ethos to Rudolf Steiner schools – focusing on the unique abilities of each individual – the Engine Shed is part of Garvald Community social enterprise and runs a cafe and conference facilities, a bakery and outside catering.

Based in a Victorian railway building beside the old Innocent Railway line, it works with major employers such as NHS Lothian to move people into full-time work.

The threat of closure came just two years after Blindcraft was closed by the council and seven months after Edinburgh’s Remploy factory was shut.

A council consultation of six disability employment schemes in the city claimed the Engine Shed was the only one not to have found a single person employment last year.

Braille Press saw four people get jobs, Forth Sector nine people, Real Jobs assisted five, Enable helped two into employment and Intowork four people.

Only Forth Sector receives more funding than The Engine Shed.

But over the years, the Engine Shed has had an excellent record of finding employment, placing up to nine out of ten of its trainees in full-time work, including at Edinburgh Castle.

The council’s funding is just half of its income; the rest is generated through its own businesses.

One person who opposed plans to withdraw the council funding was Hibs community manager Sue McLernon, 50.

Her daughter, Danielle, 21, who has autism, has been working at the Engine Shed for two years.

In response to the threat of closure, Sue, from Leith, helped organise a sponsored walk to raise awareness of the funding crisis, which saw 50 participants of all ages walking from The Engine Shed on St Leonards Street, through Holyrood Park to St Margaret’s Loch.

The event raised more than £1000 for the Lothian Special Olympics, which provides sporting opportunities for people with learning disabilities.

Sue said: “It’s fantastic to have a reprieve for another year.

“Danielle has become a different person since she started going to the Engine Shed, she loves it there.

“But I hope that now they can sit down and have a think about funding every year – we need to be able to plan for the future.

“The council needs to think about the whole process, not just the Engine Shed, but all the other facilities which offer opportunities to young adults with learning difficulties.”

She added: “It’s not nice when you feel like you have an axe hanging over your head all of the time.”

Councillors will be told next month that Specialist Employability services – which includes the Engine Shed – will continue to be funded as usual for the next financial year, starting April 2014.

A report, including recommendations, will go to the Economy Committee on September 17.

A city council spokesman insisted that removal of funding had never got to the point of being discussed by councillors.

Edinburgh Central MSP Marco Biagi welcomed news that the immediate threat had been lifted.

He said: “The Engine Shed is a gem.

“It provides a path to mainstream employment for disabled people who need that extra bit of training, and 
support once they have moved on.

“The Scottish Government approach recognises that there needs to be a range of support available for those with different levels of disability.

“Engine Shed can fit very well into that framework.

“Now there is a chance to develop a long-term solution that means Edinburgh continues to have a range of support.

“The city needs both the work-focused mainstream employment that the council wants to increase, and 
the longer, more intense preparation for work done by other groups, like the Engine Shed.

“The city council is right to review how best to help disabled people into work, but also right now to take a bit more time doing it.”

Economy spokesman for the Conservative group, Councillor Jason Rust, was among those who had been critical of the council’s handling of the situation.

He said: “The council seems to have taken a sensible decision on it at last.

“Looking forward to the year ahead, they will have a better opportunity to look at the service that is offered.

“It’s welcome news for everyone involved with the Engine Shed who know all of the amazing work that they do.”