The Engine Shed

Posted by editor 17/01/2014 0 Comment 4216 views

The Engine ShedJenny McBain visits The Engine Shed, an Edinburgh ‘training’ café with a special place in the community

At first sight the Engine Shed in Edinburgh appears to be a lovely but ordinary café, yet it has insinuated its way into the hearts of the local population and is even referenced affectionately in the Rebus detective novels by author Ian Rankin.

Housed in an old stone building, it has art work on the walls and a delicious vegetarian menu and artisan bread. It obviously appeals to a lot of regular customers but there is a lot going on behind the scenes that makes this a very special place.  Chief executive Marian MacDonald explains: “We provide high quality training for people with learning difficulties. At any one time we have up to 30 trainees and they work in the café, our bakery, our conference facility or in our food processing unit where tofu is made.”

The Engine Shed embodies all the key principles of social enterprise: commercial activity produces revenue which covers half the organisation’s running costs and the local council provides the rest of the money because it recognises the social value of what is being achieved.

MacDonald goes on: “Our main goal is to help people get jobs and we take on people who might not be considered to be that employable. It is like the old apprenticeship model in many ways. You are really getting to know someone and helping them to develop life skills. It is not a quick fix. You need time to work out the bits they can’t do very well and give people a lot of help to overcome difficulties.  It is a slow process; not a linear one.”

Sarah Boyack is a Labour MSP who supports the work of the Engine Shed.  She says, “As a local representative, I know that getting jobs in the city is quite a challenge and there’s a lot of people need to be matched into work but if you don’t have any training and you don’t have confidence or skills, it’s very difficult to do that.

“I think what the Engine Shed does is it gives people the background and the confidence, the self-esteem to go and work somewhere, and it makes a huge difference in terms of giving them a chance to get a job and look after themselves in the future.”

In terms of getting people into jobs, the Engine Shed is extremely successful.  Even in these difficult economic times, over half their trainees, who are allowed to stay for three years, go on to secure jobs.  But the enterprise is also providing a community resource that is open to anybody who chooses to walk through the door and become part of it by buying food and drink. And lots of people do.  In fact when grant funding was under threat last year, it became clear just how many people value what is on offer.

MacDonald says, “We were completely overwhelmed by the support we got from people from all walks of life who put pen to paper and stated their views. Everyone feels part of this place. We’ve got employers who give work placements and jobs and our café customers feel part of it too.  They get to know the trainees and feel part of helping young people. It really connects people. I think, everyone feels like they are contributing to something really positive.”

Over the 24 years that it has been in existence the Engine Shed has helped hundreds of young people to develop the skills and confidence they need to become more independent. It has also attracted visitors on fact-finding missions from as far afield as China and Australia and many similar initiatives at home and abroad have been inspired by the Engine Shed.

Sarah Boyak sums up its appeal: “I love coming here. I think the atmosphere is great, the food is great, and I enjoy meeting the trainees.   The thing about the Engine Shed is that they really care about their trainees and they’re really interested about what happens to them in the future.”

What the trainees say:
Louise Tilley: “Before I came to the Engine Shed I was really shy.  Now I have more confidence and I’ve learnt how to make bread and how to make cakes and pasties.

Ranald Moncreiff: “ I’ve learned quite a lot of skills here, like how to prepare vegetables and how to do tofu and other skills like how to clean things properly and washing up and keeping tidy.”

Abdul Rahman : “The people, the customers, the trainees, they’re all good. They teach you a lot of things. You may think you’re not bright enough to do things but you are actually bright enough to do what you’re doing here. I am glad I came to this place because when you learn something in here you build your confidence and your self esteem.  They give you a life.”

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