A CITY bar which has lain empty for almost two years is now home to a pop-up shop selling homeware, art and gifts. 

The Blueberry Academy has taken over the vacant Society Bar premises in Rougier Street which shut during the first lockdown of 2020 and never reopened.

The newly-launched Blueberry Pop Up is part of the academy which supports people with learning disabilities and differences with employment and independent skills.

The shop provides retail training for 21 people with additional needs so they can develop customer service and money-handling skills.

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As a co-operative, the academy's trainees who are aged between 18 and 71 receive a share from items sold.

Many of the products made by the trainees are upcycled from unwanted items and materials, with furniture, gifts, homeware, cards, jewellery and artwork on offer.

The shop also stocks goods made by York Disabled Workers Co-operative and Brunswick Organic Nursery.

Angela Taylor, shop retail manager, said the academy usually occupied empty shops temporarily while the search for new tenants was underway.

She said the Rougier Street property was due to be demolished as part of North Star’s Roman Quarter development.

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"Society Bar shut suddenly when we had the first lockdown and has not reopened. It was pretty much overnight. It has been sitting empty for nearly two years."

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She said the owners had allowed Blueberry to use the space rent free as properties used for training or the welfare of disabled people are exempt from business rates.

Angela said the trainees had been fully involved in the move from their former premises in Micklegate to build their experience of work and help them adapt to a new environment.

Keen photographer David Kenward, 31, below, one of the trainees who is exhibiting and selling his photos in the shop, said the new premises were big with lots of light.

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"I always take a camera with me and like taking photos of nature and landscapes," he said. "I feel proud seeing them in the shop. I like showing my pictures and making people happy."

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Blueberry had its previous pop-up in Micklegate for almost two years during the pandemic.

"It was ideal with the Covid situation because it was large," said Angela. "When we knew we had to leave, we knew we needed large premises for the safety of our trainees and customers.

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"This place came up."

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The front part of the former bar area is the shop space, while there is a craft area and office at the back.

The shop is open from Monday to Saturday, 10am to 3pm.

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