A PROJECT that combines a daycare centre for disabled people with community education, training, production and sales, has been given a cash advance to develop a second base in Suffolk.
Wood ?n' Stuff ? a sheltered workshop co-operative in Station Hill, Bury St Edmunds ? has been given a £ 15,000 loan from Co-operative Action, the Co-op Movement charity that supports the growth of co-operative enterprises.
The family idea was set up in 1995 and General Manager John Morley quit his job as an insurance underwriter to join his parents, who have always worked in the care field.
Wood ?n' Stuff offers training, rehabilitation and social therapy for the 110 members who regularly attend from up to 25 miles away. People with mental health problems, learning difficulties, sensory and physical disability, including stroke and accident victims ? all with different reasons for wanting to rebuild their lives. Some want to return to work but most are unlikely ever to work again.
"The youngest is 19, the oldest is 93 and they all have goals and targets," says John. "For our part, we have absolutely no barriers ? the only criterion is that they want to come here."
Twelve carers, with volunteer help, teach them to develop skills ? whether art and craft or woodworking, horticulture and computers.
Together they produce 25 core products including wooden garden furniture ? from bird tables and Wendy houses to planted wheelbarrows and Welsh dressers. Their commissioned items have included purpose built two-tier garden decking, a wishing well, medieval stocks, a Russian gun carriage for a local theatre group, and fire engine toys for Romanian orphans.
Their shop and garden centre sells the work, and produce from four large greenhouses, "to help the running expenses," says John, "but sales are not what we're about. We've evolved around the people who come to us and we're here to encourage them to achieve their goals."
Now those achievements will continue on two sites ? with the help of the Co-op Action loan which meets nearly half the start-up cost of refurbishing and refitting the Haverhill premises 15 miles away in Rookwood Way.
The one-time engineering workshop was, more recently, converted into offices but is now being turned into a Wood ?n' Stuff workshop.
The loan will cover the cost of fitting a kitchen and disabled toilets, installing workshop equipment and computers, widening doors, knocking down walls, building ramps, carpeting and decorating.
"This is a co-operative enterprise with a big heart," says Jo Bird of Co-operative Action. "Wood ?n' Stuff works in so many different areas and delivers so many different services that it's impossible to fit it into a category. But the difference it makes to the lives of the people who go there speaks for itself."
Co-operative Action promotes the development of co-operative, mutual and social enterprise solutions. Since it was established last year, grants and loans of between £ 5,000 and £ 50,000 have been awarded to co-operative projects from agriculture to childcare.