We all know how tough the job market currently is in the north east. So imagine then just how much harder it is for those who have a disability?
That’s the difficulty facing the students who, on a weekly basis, are given a helping hand by Fly Cup Catering.
The Inverurie-based charity enables adults with learning disabilities to access training and employment opportunities within the catering sector.
It provides trainees with work experience through its own cafe, bakery and outside catering services at Burghmuir Circle.
The charity also works closely with other catering establishments to develop temporary or permanent work placements.
But it’s a tough market place just now, meaning demand for Fly Cup’s services is at an all time high.
Which is exactly why the charity is looking to expand its training opportunities.
Denise Belshaw, Fly Cup’s chief executive, said: “We support 34 trainees every week with 66 placement days.
“All of our trainees have learning difficulties such as Down Syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy. Our youngest trainee is aged 17 and the oldest is in her late 40s.
“Since moving to our Burghmuir Circle premises six years ago, we’ve grown tenfold – to breaking point.
“So we’re in the middle of a major fundraising drive this year to secure European match funding to expand.
“We want to create a learning centre here which will act as an independent living school, where we can teach the trainees housekeeping and administration skills.
“We’re also hoping in the next 12 months to become a Scottish Qualifications Authority centre.
“It’s about giving trainees more choice so, as well as catering qualifications, they could learn other skills which might serve them better in the job market.
“We want to be able to move trainees into employment but placing trainees on work experience is really difficult just now and catering jobs are not coming up as often.”
Fly Cup also hopes to increase its opening hours which would provide even more trainee placements.
Denise explained: “We want to to do more outside catering and entertainment events which would create more placements.
“We currently supply bakery goods to a number of cafes and delis.
“We also supply business lunches and have a meeting room here, which people can use and utilise our services.
“But there’s so much more we could do if we could expand our premises.”
As well as providing employment opportunities, Fly Cup also helps boost trainees’ self esteem.
Denise explained: “It’s all about building confidence by improving their social skills and helping them to become more independent.
“Our trainees turn up on time, are never sick and do the job they are asked to do.
“An employer would be very lucky to employ one of our trainees!
“However, they would also need to have patience and be willing to work with their staff to explain how our trainees work.
“We work with 34 trainees and we understand every single one of them individually. It’s all about understanding the person.”
There is little doubt how highly thought of Fly Cup is – it works closely with Aberdeenshire Council and in November won the Pride of Aberdeen Award from Aberdeen City Council.
Denise said: “We were really, really chuffed to win – it was fantastic to get that kind of recognition.”
As a training school, Fly Cup has a service level agreement with Aberdeenshire Council which pays for a percentage of its training.
It also receives grant funding and fundraises locally for “extras”.
However, it is now largely self-sustainable, thanks to its successful cafe and bakery.
But it is somewhat a victim of its own success.
Denise said: “We keep creating new placements because we don’t like to turn anyone away. But we really need to expand as we are at bursting point!”
So the Prison Break event on Sunday, April 23, at Peterhead Prison will be a huge fundraising boost.
Denise added: “It’s going to be a lot of fun and, of course, people can enjoy a nice Fly Cup too!”
To find out more about Fly Cup or support its work, visit www.flycup.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01467 625645.
The Great Escape for Fly Cup
Heroic participants are set to follow in the footsteps of the courageous 1987 SAS troops who famously seized back control of the notorious Peterhead Jail in a stand-off which made history.
And the proceeds from the event on Sunday, April 23, will help Fly Cup continue its fantastic work.
The Great Escape Prison Break! will see participants locked into the prison try to make an escape. They will also have the chance to take part in an abseil on the grounds.
The iron gates of the first ever convict prison in Scotland will swing shut, to keep everyone in the heart of the compound, before they begin their big getaway!
They will choose their master plan and join scores of others taking part, all in the name of helping to support Fly Cup.
The Inverurie-based charity has teamed up with George Walker Events to stage the fantastic event, which is already proving a hit.
George said: “We’re delighted with the numbers who have already signed up but are hoping even more people will step up to the challenge.
“So if you are brave enough to abseil, army-style off the old prison building, we want to hear from you!
“We are also looking for nominations for the prison lock in. So if it’s time to lock up your boss or a colleague or friend who you think should be in the rogues gallery, then this is the ideal time to do so!”
Of course, it’s all good fun and participants won’t be kept prisoner for the five days the 1987 stand-off lasted for. But it is a unique way to help an excellent charity raise funds.
Entries and nominations are being sought now. Visit www.georgewalkerevents.co.uk for more information on how you could take part and stage your very own prison break!