Engine Shed was closed in February 2015, but the website is kept open as a record of it's achievements. As part of these achievements, was the above collection of these experiences and achievements. As recognition, appreciation and because their lessons learned are just as much or even more pertinent to the work now


Background to the Report

The Engine Shed began life in 1987 as an innovative training project to help young people with learning disabilities make the transition from school or college into paid employment. At that time it was not generally expected that these young people would or could work in mainstream workplaces.

The Engine Shed wanted to move away from the idea that people with learning disabilities required ‘care’ towards an approach that was about building up social and practical skills to allow individuals to become as independent as possible, with the ultimate aim of paid employment. Essentially what was created was an ‘apprenticeship’ model that allowed people to ‘learn by doing, over a three year period.

The project took over and refurbished a disused railway repair shed in Edinburgh and created a vegetarian cafe, organic bakery and tofu production unit that provided the training environment – and a source of around half of the project’s income. Meeting rooms on the top floor of the building were available, at a charge, for small conferences and events. Products from the bakery and tofu unit were sold to a variety of shops and restaurants in Edinburgh and beyond.

Over time, the Engine Shed became a well-known and much-loved institution in the city, with its own unique atmosphere. When it was threatened with the loss of its council funding in 2013 a petition to save the Engine Shed was signed by 10,000 people. The council relented on that occasion but it was clear that a threat to its future remained.

This report was initially conceived as a response to the potential loss of council funding, one that would present a strong case to elected members of the Edinburgh City Council about the economic as well as the social value of the Engine Shed’s approach. The immediate background to this was that responsibility for funding all employability projects in the city had moved to the Economic Development Department (EDD) of the council as part of a restructuring process.

For most of its life the Engine Shed had been funded and supported through the city’s Social Work Department, and had built up strong links and relationships with its officials. So when the changeover took place the Engine Shed was less familiar with, and to, those within the EDD. This applied to all the other employability projects that worked with disabled people. All of these continued to receive funding while a new strategy for this field was developed. The wider context, of course, was that the Council as a whole was facing major cuts to its own budget and had to balance the books somehow, so this period was full of uncertainty for everyone.

What happened next is explained in more detail in the report but the short version is that the Engine Shed, by the summer of 2014, became fully aware of the implications of the new funding strategy i.e. that our funding would cease from the new financial year. The Engine Shed was thus forced to close its doors in March 2015 after more than 25 years. Work had already started on this report in the spring of 2014, at which time the Engine Shed was in the midst of positive discussions with senior councillors about the future. Strong indications were given that funding would continue in some form.

A Professor of Work and Employment from the School of Management at the University of Stirling agreed to advise the author of the report, and in particular to focus on an economic analysis of the Engine Shed. However, work to gather data for the report had barely got started when we realise that in reality funding would be cut. From that point, the managers at the Engine Shed were fully occupied with firstly trying desperately to find a way of saving the organisation and then having to close it down in an orderly manner; the upshot was there was little time to focus on the research. Changes at the University of Stirling meant that, by autumn 2014, there was less time available to support the work.

The Engine Shed did not want to abandon the research altogether – former trainees and parents had already been contacted and agreed to take part in interviews – but its overall purpose changed. What had initially been conceived as a fairly ambitious research project that would include an analysis of the economic impacts of the Engine Shed over its 25 year history, both on individuals and the wider economy, gradually morphed into a less research-focused piece of work. It was agreed that much of the original structure should remain but that it would be a less formal report that tells the history of the organisation and would offer lessons to others about how to help young people with learning disabilities move into paid work.

Who was Involved?

A number of people have been involved, primarily:

Anne-Marie McGeoch – Anne-Marie has worked extensively with the Engine Shed over many years, helping to prepare business plans, funding applications, publications and as a general adviser. She collected much of the data for this Review and wrote much of this report.

Marian MacDonald – CEO of the Engine Shed. Marian worked closely with Anne-Marie on all aspects of the report. As well as organising the practical side such as interviews with former trainees and parents, Marian has been the source of much of the history and background information: she started the Engine Shed off in 1987 and remains its CEO as it seeks to rebuild.

Professor Ron McQuaid –University of Stirling. Ron provided invaluable advice in shaping the structure of the report and also in the design and analysis of the schedules which were used in interviews with former trainees. The section drawing on these, and other interviews, forms the heart of the report.

Stephen McMurray – Freelance researcher. Stephen contributed to the discussions with Ron to design the schedule, undertook several of the interviews with trainees and analysed the findings under Ron’s guidance.

Julie Ridley, Reader in Applied Social Services at the University of Central Lancashire, provided a background paper that gives an overview of the key changes in social policy in relation to employment support for people with learning disabilities as a resource for the Engine Shed. Other useful information was provided by Robert Davie from The Family Advice and Information resource (FAIR) in relation to the changes in benefits for people with learning disabilities.

Thanks also to Rosie Barclay, member of the Board of the Engine Shed, and previously its Chair. Rosie provided information, from her professional experience working in the Careers Service, on some of the relevant changes to educational policy and employment support for young people with learning disabilities. Kate Skinner, independent researcher, and second author, edited and completed the final report.

A big thank you is due to the many former trainees and their parents who consented to be interviewed.

What is in the Report?

The Approach At the heart of this document are findings from interviews with 24 former trainees. The main aim of the interviews was to follow up the employment history of those who had come through the Engine Shed training. Some of them are now in their 40s and have worked for more than 20 years; they provide a unique insight into the long-term employment experiences of people with learning disabilities.

The interviews covered more than trainees’ work history; it was also designed to capture detailed information about their personal lives as well. It included questions about their disability and educational background; what they gained from their time at the Engine Shed; what they have done since in terms of employment; what support they get for their work and in their lives and what they hope for their future.

The aim was to gain an overall picture of their lives, how employment fits into them and to assess the long-term impact of the Engine Shed. The interviews were taped and transcribed. Analysis of the findings was undertaken by our independent researcher under guidance from the School of Management at the University of Stirling. However, all those interviewed have considerable learning disabilities and are sometimes not able to give full answers to direct questions so the CEO of the Engine Shed provided a series of short pen portraits to give a more rounded picture. For instance, many interviewees were unable to give full details of their disabilities, or how they were affected by them in practical terms at work and in dealing with day-to-day issues such as money, travelling etc.

Some also have speech problems and in these cases staff at the Engine Shed helped interpret responses. Sometimes parents were also present at the interviews to assist. In order to further understand the backgrounds of the trainees and the role the Engine Shed had played in their development, more in-depth interviews were also undertaken with the parents of five of these former trainees. These were semi-structured in that they followed a script but were not dependent on a detailed schedule. They provide an often poignant insight into the reality – with its triumphs and challenges - of looking after and living with a learning disabled child and adolescent and how these continue into adulthood. Several parents are now elderly and their sons or daughters are now middle-aged. They all point to the Engine Shed as having played a key role in their son’s or daughter’s development, and how having a job, in the words of one parent ‘means everything’.

These interviews were undertaken by the main author. They were taped and transcribed and a summary of the interviews is included in Section Five, The Heart of the Matter. The role of employers, who have taken on Engine Shed trainees both as part of work experience and also as employees, is also explored in this section. It proved not to be possible to conduct new research with employers, however, there is a wealth of previous material to draw on and much of this is also included here. It is hoped that all these findings are interesting in themselves but also useful for future researchers into successful employment support for this young adults with learning disabilities as positive employment outcomes have been evidenced and have been sustained over a long period of time, some for many years.

Structure of the Report Section 2: THE ROOTS OF THE ENGINE SHED

This part explains the context within which the Engine Shed came into being: not only the changing social, economic and political world it emerged within but also its specific origins as a spin-out from Garvald Edinburgh, itself a ground-breaking approach to supporting people with learning disabilities. Its birth also owed a great deal to the personal drive and commitment of the CEO of the Engine Shed who previously worked at Garvald Edinburgh and who launched the new project. These influences, and people all came together at a specific time to create the Engine Shed and this is explored here.

Section 3: PHILOSOPHY AND PRACTICE This explains the approach underpinning the Engine Shed’s model and its roots in Rudolf Steiner’s work. It outlines theories of learning disability and how it can affect individuals, how the learning model adopted by the Engine Shed works and how it is delivered in practice. The Engine Shed is a three year ‘apprentice’ style training that follows a series of graded steps and to help explain their holistic approach we have included a series of fictitious case studies.

Section 4: THE TRAINEES – THE HEART OF THE MATTER This section describes the findings from the interviews with the 24 trainees and the five parents.

Section 5: THE IMPACT OF THE EXTERNAL ENVIRONMENT ON THE ENGINE SHED This part sets out the key economic and political changes that have impacted on the Engine Shed over its 25 years. This could fill a whole book, so the aim here is to sketch out the main changes in the external environment that influenced the way in which the Engine Shed operated. In particular we look at the evolution of policy in relation to employment support for people with learning disabilities. This draws on the paper produced by Dr Julie Ridley, Reader in Applied Social Services at the University of Central Lancashire, which summarises the landmarks in policy and legislation which influenced employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities from 1985 – 2015. The paper is included in full as Appendix 1.

Section 6: KEYS TO SUCCESS & CHALLENGES OVERCOME This part looks at some of the successes and challenges over the last 25 years and articulates some of the learning from the experience gathered by those who set up, ran and attended the Engine Shed, along with their carers, from which others can learn.

Section 7: THE FUTURE –WHAT NEXT? The Engine Shed, following its closure in its original premises in 2015, undertook a search for premises which could accommodate a small, new business. The idea was, as an initial step, to set up a café to re-launch our services and to re-establish a public presence in Edinburgh. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened and the Board took the decision that the Engine shed would close altogether.

Section 8: END NOTE

APPENDIX 1: KEY LANDMARKS IN DEVELOPING EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNIITIES FOR PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES 1985-2015. Dr Julie Ridley, reader in Applied Social Science, University of Central Lancashire.



This section explains the context within which the Engine Shed came into being: not only the changing social, economic and political world it emerged within but also its specific origins as a spinout from Garvald Edinburgh, itself a ground-breaking approach to supporting people with learning disabilities. A Brief History of Approaches to Learning Disability The paper by Key Landmarks in Developing Employment Opportunities for People with Learning Disabilities (Appendix 1) sets out some of the changes in the legislation, theories and policies relating to people with learning disabilities, with a particular emphasis on attitudes towards employment as a goal of social policy.

The paper outlines the evolution of ideas away from segregation towards integration, and towards treating people with learning disabilities as individuals with the same rights as everyone else, including a right to work. However, this evolution took a long time: for many years people with learning disabilities were often characterised as ‘defective’ by society at large and this did not change overnight. As the paper shows, up until the middle of the 20th century much of what lay behind the attitude of the state towards those with learning disabilities was one of fear: they were often demonised, discriminated against, institutionalised and prevented from reproducing: at its most extreme were the mass killings of disabled and vulnerable people in Nazi Germany. In the early part of the 20th century the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 created the option of compulsory detention in hospital on the grounds of disability, and referred to such people as ‘defectives’.

Some people with learning disabilities were not detained in institutions, however, and the 1913 Act enabled local authorities to develop what would be later known as sheltered workshops for ‘occupation, training and supervision for defectives’ living in the community, but these only paid ‘pocket money’. The Second World War marked an important turning point in attitudes towards disability, with the creation, in its aftermath, of new Human Rights Legislation and the idea that basic human rights were universal; they applied to everyone regardless of ability or disability. This helped create an environment that would see the emergence of various ‘rights movements’, including the feminist and black rights movements, as well as disability rights groups such as ‘People First’ – the idea of ‘people first, disability second”.

Mencap, the first campaigning organisation for people with learning disabilities was founded in 1946. This was the beginning of parents actively campaigning to improve services for their disabled children. In the UK the creation of the NHS after the war also saw the emergence of a more humane ‘medical model’ of disability, where people were no longer seen as ‘defectives’ but with conditions that required treatment by specialist professionals. The institutions that had previous housed people to keep them away from the rest of society were renamed as hospitals, with the emphasis now on care.

This did not always mean good treatment, however, and standards of care were sometimes poor. One such resident reports: ‘Being in the institution was bad. I got tied up and locked up. I didn’t have any clothes of my own and no privacy. We got beat up at times but that wasn’t the worst. The real pain came from being in a group. I was never a person. I was part of a group to eat, sleep and everything...it was sad’. In educational terms, the post-war era also saw the establishment of proper schooling for children with learning disabilities, although these were also segregated. Children with learning disabilities were now referred to as ‘handicapped’. The 1960s started to see major changes in terms of theory, legislation, policy and practice towards people with learning disabilities.

The work of Wolfensberger (1969, 1972) is considered seminal by researchers: he identified the importance of ordinary patterns of life for people with disabilities and the importance of socially valued roles, including employment; the concept of ‘normalisation’ would later underpin the design of more community-based services. At the same time, campaigners were bringing to light scandals in hospitals and legislation was introduced that would eventually lead to the closure of these hospitals and the introduction of the idea of ‘Care in the Community’ where people would live as independently as possible outside of institutions.

Meanwhile, a number of changes had taken place to the original idea of the ‘occupation centres’ established under the 1913 Act. The focus was on training people to move into outside employment and Adult Training Centres with an industrial focus were established in most local authorities in the 1970s.

Marc Gold’s work (1980) Try Another Way: Training Manual revolutionised training support and later developed into Training in Systematic Instruction. This approach was important in informing how the Engine Shed later developed its model of training. The early 1980s also saw the introduction of Sheltered Placement Schemes, where employers could take on a disabled worker and be partly subsidised for the fact their productivity might be lower than a non-disabled worker. So, much had changed and was in the process of changing by the late 1980s when the Engine Shed came into being.

A more humane system was certainly evolving, with an emphasis on people moving out of long-stay hospitals and into the community and increasing day care services, including adult training centres where people could be prepared for employment. However, while thinking and even legislation may make advances, these can take a long time to translate into service-provision on the ground. Someone has to bring together the ideas, the policy and the funding to make something happen locally; the Engine Shed was one of the first to provide tailored employment training for young people with learning disabilities.

The Role of Garvald Edinburgh & Jack Reed The Engine Shed was created by those already working at the forefront of developing new services for people with learning disabilities, and who were guided by the philosophical thinking of Rudolph Steiner. Germany may have demonstrated the most extreme cruelty towards people with learning disabilities during the Second World War, but it also gave rise to a humane and practical philosophy, which at root recognises everyone’s potential and tries to realise that potential through creativity. Residential and social care/community care for people with learning disabilities had been established within Germany by those working out of this philosophy, but during the war many escaped and some arrived in Scotland: followers of Steiner set up the first Camphill community in Aberdeen.

Other communities followed, with ten adult communities and two schools in Scotland and 43 throughout the UK and Ireland. Camphill is now an international movement, with communities in more than 20 countries. Jack Reed, who was instrumental in the birth of the Engine Shed, was involved in the early development of this movement in Scotland, working both at Camphill and at Garvald School based at Garvald West Linton (there is a linked group of ‘Garvald’ organisations, all based on the Steiner philosophy – see Section 3 for more details).

Garvald Edinburgh was set up in 1969: this was a residential resource, with day activities for people with learning disabilities from the age of 16, who had left the existing residential education and care services. Most of these day activities on offer were primarily therapeutic and creative but there was interest in exploring the idea of paid work for the more able and a research paper called Towards Employment was commissioned The ideas within this paper led to the establishment of a new training facility based in an old factory building in Gorgie, Edinburgh which was refurbished to create a number of workshops.

This facility still flourishes today with a bakery, cafe for the centre users, various arts and crafts workshops and a project to refurbish tools. The aim was, and still is, to help people be productive and to provide creative, meaningful activity. Initially this was viewed by the umbrella organisation, Garvald Edinburgh, as implementing the more vocationally-based ideas that came out of the research paper, although this stopped short of providing paid work. At this point, the early to mid-1980s, the legislative changes of the 1970s were starting to have a major impact locally, particularly the shift to people moving out of long-stay hospitals to live in the community. The process for closing the main learning disability hospital for Edinburgh, Gogarburn, began was in the mid-1980s but accommodation and services had to be created before this could be completed.

Garvald Edinburgh was already a key service provider, offering both supported accommodation and day centre places, so was involved in high-level discussions with those charged with the closure of Gogarburn. As a major player in the local scene and an important provider of new services in this period of changeover, Jack Reed was taken seriously by the people charged with implementing the new policies. Thus he was heard when he brought forward ideas, and one of these was to look beyond the care and therapeutic aspects of their services and towards employment as an important element in life, for those who were able to work.

Marian MacDonald, CEO of the Engine Shed The ball was set rolling with the research paper commissioned in the early 1980s and the idea was enthusiastically embraced by one of Garvald Edinburgh’s new young social workers, Marian MacDonald, who went on to set up and run the Engine Shed. Marian’s original role as a social worker at Garvald was to offer individual counselling and support to centre users as they made the important transition into adulthood, to liaise with other professionals who could provide help and services, as well as with the families. In this capacity she developed a good understanding of the needs of these young people and what their wishes for their futures. She discovered that many had a clearly-stated desire to work: some had brothers and sisters who worked and they wanted to be the same as them.

Not long after Marian started work at Garvald in the mid-1980s, Jack involved her as part of a steering group working on a feasibility study into a potential employment project. He brought together a group of professionals who were responding to the growing awareness that some people with learning disabilities had the motivation and abilities to move into paid work, given the right support and training. A proposal was developed where a co-ordinator post would be created to establish an employment project. The funding application was made to the Health Board and the local authority Social Work Department as both organisations were responsible for arranging the shift from institutional to community care. The Social Work Department allocated one of their community development staff to support the changeover project and he worked closely with the steering group for several years.

This was all still very much at the margins and the fact that the funding application for a co-ordinator post to try and establish an employment project was successful was due to Jack’s track record in this field and his persistence: it not a mainstream idea at the time, but the funders were willing to experiment. Looking back, it seems that the funding was given; ‘..in the spirit of the voluntary sector having the freedom to be innovative. But however supportive they were they did have misgivings. They secretly admitted they found the idea unorthodox and couldn’t imagine it would work – although they wished us well!’ (Engine Shed CEO) Jack Reed came from a Steiner background, with its own particular philosophy and approach, but the CEO was not only part of a different generation but with a different background.

Trained in social work in the late 1970s her work experience had primarily been in community development settings, where she worked with a wide range of professionals to provide help for clients. She describes her social work training as having been in an atmosphere that was about ‘breaking down barriers between professionals’. Her experience working for a voluntary organisation in Muirhouse, a poverty-ridden housing estate in Edinburgh, had shown her the advantage of working in this way: she was involved in organising self-help groups for young single parents and liaising with social services, health care, further education etc to help them get the services they needed. It was a practical and pragmatic approach to helping people move out of difficulties and get on with their lives.