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Upset and furious to find out that yesterday, one of my favourite places in Auld Reekie closed.  Today, it is holding its farewell celebration for staff and clients.  After 25 years of superb, sensitive, supportive and scrumptious service, the Engine Shed, a multifaceted social enterprise that trains young learning-disabled adults in its various businesses (a café, a bakery, a tofu production unit, an outside catering service and a conference centre) is having to close after Edinburgh Council withdrew funding.

The Engine Shed provided learning-disabled school and college leavers with a pathway to employment via an individually-tailored, time-limited, graduated training programme that linked on to external employer placements and then paid employment. All this while offering the citizens of, and visitors to, the Athens of the North, delicious vegetarian food and cheerful service.  The model had a well-documented success rate for people with learning disabilities over the last quarter of a century, but Edinburgh City Council will now fund only one model of employment support for young LD adults, whereby individuals are ‘placed in work and then supported’.  Bish, bash, bosh.  Complete bosh, in fact.  Where will suitable work placements will be found, after five years of national austerity, for learning-disabled youngsters with no prior training or experience?

Disabled workers, even those with years or decades of training and experience, have problems finding work.  It’s worth remembering that two years after Remploy closed, 75% of its employees are still out of work and having to deal with the horrors of fitness to work assessments, Jobcentre Plus requirements and a callously draconian sanctions regime.

The Engine Shed is near Holyrood Park, where I spent many a happy Fringe Sunday watching acts ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, swiftly bypassing the plain tedious.  One of my favourite Fringe acts was a local one, Edinburgh Renaissance Band, a group of eccentric virtuosi who bring long-forgotten tunes to life on a variety of nearly-forgotten instruments: viols, lutes, sackbutts, cornetts, gemshorns, crumhorns, shawms, and the one that always brought a happy smile to my face, a delightfully peculiar thing called – with good reason – a rackett. It looks like the offspring of a deformed oboe and a bottle-gourd and produces low, buzzing notes like a basso profundo bumblebee trapped behind a windowpane.

The other evening, Grenouille and I were – unusually – the only ones in the house, E and Papa being out doing Big Boys’ Stuff.  G and I wound our way peacefully through the necessarily lengthy bedtime routine, and after bath-pj’s-medicine-supper-teeth-book-cuddle, I got G up and running on the overnight machines and went down to the kitchen to do the dishes.  Once I’d turned the taps off, it was very quiet.  Over the swish of the dishcloth, I could hear what sounded like a rackett, playing something that resembled ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’.  I paused, pan and cloth submerged in the suds, and listened.  It was definitely ‘Old MacDonald’, but what on earth was it being played on?  Eventually it dawned on me that it was G, happily humming down the ventilator tube to make it vibrate.  Probably does it every night, but normally there’s too much other noise going on immediately after tuck-in time for the performance to be audible.

Add your own conclusions here about how difficult it is for learning-disabled people to get themselves heard.  Myself, I have a nasty feeling that the former and potential clients of the Engine Shed are going to find themselves pushed well beyond the fringes of the working world.  I hope they have a riot of a party today.

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P.S. There are two ‘Save the Engine Shed’ petitions running – one to the City of Edinburgh Council here and one appealing to the public for support here.

Edinburgh readers can ask their local MP to intervene by using this email link.

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