MSP Marco Biagi urges: keep The Engine Shed public

A SCOTTISH Government minister has called on city chiefs to ensure the building formerly used by The Engine Shed is kept in community use.

The Engine Shed finally closed last week. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The St Leonard’s Lane cafe and bakery – which employed and trained 30 vulnerable young adults and operated as a stepping stone to help them into full employment – was forced to close last week after 25 years, following council cuts to its funding.

But now Edinburgh Central MSP and Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment Marco Biagi has demanded that the building, which will be put on the market for rent early next week, be “retained for the public good”.

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Mr Biagi insisted the council’s duty to ensure it achieves the best value on its assets did not necessarily mean chasing profit at the expense of “social value”.

He said: “The Engine Shed building has been put to excellent use over the past 25 years, and it would be a tragedy if this was forgotten.

“The building has a great story and can still have a positive legacy. The last thing most people would want would be for that history of community use to be lost.

“We should value our public buildings, and local residents will want the council to ensure that the Engine Shed is retained for the public good – by becoming the home of another social enterprise, for example.

“Everyone knows the council has a duty to ensure best value when considering how it uses public assets. But local community groups point out rightly that best value does not mean choosing the highest bidder – there is also such a thing as social value, and there will be a demand that this should be at the forefront of the council’s decision.”

Last week’s Engine Shed closure saw 16 members of staff made redundant, as well as 16 trainees – 13 of whom had yet to complete their three-year training schemes before going on to find work.

The cafe and community project was set to lose £211,000 in the budget reshuffle next month, as the council prepares to roll out a new city-wide support service for the disabled.

And last Friday, more than 200 people packed into a hall on the building’s second floor to bid farewell to an institution that had instilled in many of them the confidence needed to strike out on their own into the world of work.

But the project’s bosses insisted the idea behind the popular eatery would continue under a different guise, with proposals to expand its organic tofu-making business.

Rosie Barclay, who acted as chair of the project’s board of directors for 16 years, even revealed tentative plans to look for new premises for the scheme closer to the city centre.

Addressing the crowd, chairwoman Marian MacDonald insisted: “We want to carry on. We want to see if we can fit into a changing environment.”

A council spokesman said: “The building will be put on the market for lease early next week and, given the level of interest already expressed, all potential bidders will be considered on their own merits.”