“Burton Street is about being happy and having a nice time,” said Isabelle France, “and we want to put that across to a wider audience.” And what better way than public maypole dancing in an old umbrella factory?
Twenty-one years ago, the old Burton Street School buildings in Hillsborough were earmarked for demolition, as they fell into disrepair after the old Victorian school had closed in 1976. Local people stepped in and started letting out rooms for dance, music and community groups, until The Burton Street Foundation was formed and took over the site, raising £1.5 million to renovate and upgrade the buildings.
Last week, the foundation opened their new centre (in the old factory and shopfitting showroom opposite the old school) to host the annual Burton Street Spring Fair, which attracted over 500 people to take part in the dancing and craft workshops, to meet the goats, rabbits, chickens and ferrets of Heeley City Farm, shop at local craft stalls and meet staff and clients.
“We want to welcome the wider community to Burton Street,” said Isabelle. “We’re actually open to the public every day, but a lot of Sheffielders still don’t know about us.”
The foundation describes itself as ‘a little community of services, groups and people’. At the heart of that is the work the foundation carries out with Sheffield adults and children who have learning disabilities, said Burton Street veteran of 17 years, Glyn Mansell.
“But we want people to see that we’re not just an enclave for people with learning difficulties. There are also more than 50 small businesses and community groups who say their home is at Burton Street.”
The centre, now in buildings on both sides of Burton Street, hosts karate and boxing groups, tea dances, health organisations, two cafés, and will soon be home to a community cinema, as well as media and drama centres, and an infant community radio venture.
More than 2,000 people visit the centre every week, said Burton Street managing director Clare Mappin, adding that the foundation currently helps 200 local adults and 100 children who have learning disabilities. Demand for services is growing, however, so last year the foundation won a £384,000 Power to Change lottery grant to expand and refurbish the new building. The foundation will now be able to double the number of people with learning disabilities who can take part in the centre’s workshops, training and employment services.
This year, Burton Street will launch its new Enterprise 100 scheme, set up with the help of Sheffield Council. “The aim is to give employment opportunities to 100 Sheffield adults with learning disabilities over the next three years,” said Clare. “We’d like large and small companies to think about their corporate social responsibility on a local level, and maybe give a local person the opportunity to enhance and change their life by getting the chance to go into employment.”
Burton Street has several staff with learning disabilities who work in the café, and provide gardening, cleaning and building maintenance services, and another former client, Anthony Beckett, has now been working for a year in the café at the nearby Sainsbury’s store at Malin Bridge.
“It’s not just about kudos for employers, “ said Glyn Mansell. “People with learning difficulties are often very good employees, they turn up and love their work. One said to me: ‘I feel now that I’ve got a life. I feel now that I’m important.’”
Companies of any size are invited to take part, said Clare. People can be taken on for just a few hours or longer, and employment can be paid or voluntary, with initial support from Burton Street staff: Kier, Sainsbury’s, Amey and Sheffield International Venues are already supporting the scheme.
“At present, Sheffield has got a very poor record for finding employment for adults with learning disabilities,” Clare said. “Only two per cent are in employment, whereas nationally the figure is six per cent. But if through Enterprise 100 we can get 100 more adults with learning disabilities into employment, Sheffeld will have reached that national average level.”
You have the impression the people in the old umbrella factory are unlikely to stop there, however.
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