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Gift Puts City Workshop at the Cutting Edge

13th Dec 2016
Gift Puts City Workshop at the Cutting Edge
Leaders of Durham’s freemen have handed an early Christmas present to staff and trainees in specialist workshops in the city - a gesture described as “vital” to securing their financial future.

The freemen’s £5,000 gift to the St Margaret’s Centre, a charitable trust, will fund the development of cutting edge technology and enable workshops to step up production of a range of arts and craft items for sale to the general public.

For more than 20 years the ecumenically-backed centre, now based on the site of a former school in Margery Lane, has provided support to many hundreds of attendees recovering from mental illnesses.

Staff and volunteers currently work with more than 60 individuals, providing support to reduce the stigma sometimes associated with mental illness and paving the way for their recovery and, in certain cases, their return to work or further training. The centre’s activities include woodwork, craft, kitchen and cooking opportunities, as well as gardening experience and office skills.

A recent major addition to the joinery workshop has been the introduction of a high-tech computerised cutting machine (CNC) which can produce top-quality, high definition work across a range of items.

The machine cuts pre-designed shapes from wood, metal, foam, plastic, soft alloy and Perspex – some a small as an inch and others up to a metre square. It can even be used for engraving on jewellery or switch to making a range of children’s furniture in pine or soft alloys.

The freemen’s gift will pay for the recruitment of a product designer who will extend the range and production of saleable items to generate increased income.

Centre manager, Rob Chatwin, said: “Our production capability at present is limited to the time I and one of my colleagues can give. A product designer will be able to maximise the earning potential of this machine and others were are looking to acquire.

“We studied a similar venture run at a centre in Harrogate working with attendees with learning difficulties. Their efforts have been generating an income of nearly £80,000 a year and we believe we can emulate that. The unstinting generosity of the freemen has been vital in making that possible.”

Joe McElwee, warden of the freemen’s Cordwainers’ Company said: “The quality and value of the therapy offered by the centre’s staff and volunteers, that sets out to nurture the confidence and self-esteem attendees need to overcome the difficulties in their lives, has been and continues to be outstanding.

“Four years ago the freemen gave £7,000 towards the cost of a now completed major restoration programme at the centre and our charitable trust had no hesitation in offering our support a second time in the hope it will help secure their financial future.”