A TRAINING academy for disabled people has praised York Conservation Trust for allowing its members to showcase their work in its vacant buildings.

Blueberry Academy has a pop-up shop at 8a Walmgate where people with learning disabilities and differences sell their handmade products, gain vital employment skills and enjoy greater independence.

Shop manager Angela Taylor said they had occupied four empty premises since June 2018, with support from City of York Council and, more recently, the trust.

She said this enabled them to have a city centre presence, while keeping running costs down.

“Without the opportunity of low rent premises, our shop would not be able to continue; the majority of lettings agents are not open to the idea of short term pop-ups, so we have been fortunate to find suitable properties. Our occupying a premises can be attractive to potential tenants as they can physically come into the property and see the space being used and we improve kerbside appeal. With all premises we have occupied, offers of long term tenancy have been made within a few months.

“We are very grateful to our current landlords, the York Conservation Trust who have now allowed us to use two of their empty properties. Many young people are benefitting from this project, developing customer service skills and knowledge of retail. We hope to continue our partnership with them for future premises.”

The Walmgate shop opened on February 1 and stocks items such as quirky gifts, cards, artwork, furniture and items for the garden and home.

“The majority of items are created by our own learners and trainees who are either with us currently or have trained with us in the past,” said Angela. “We have a workshop at the Melbourne Centre in Fishergate, where our furniture and homewares are upcycled by our arts and crafts co-operative groups. We also stock items from Brunswick organic nursery in Bishopthorpe, and York disabled workers cooperative on James street.”

Jonathan Bryant, trust chief executive, said: “They really do some innovative work. As a charity, our principal responsibility is to our buildings which are, in the main, historic and listed. We depend on our rents from our tenants to ensure that the buildings are properly maintained and looked after for the long-term. Occasionally we have vacancies between lettings. We can’t think of a better use for these premises other than to make them available to people like Blueberry Academy. The work that Blueberry do has been exceptional and we have been really impressed.”