End of Dr B’s after 27 years is blamed on funding cuts
A Barnardo's-run cafe in Belfast that trains young people with learning disabilities towards a career in catering has announced that it is to shut due to funding and staffing issues.
For the past 27 years, Dr B's Kitchen on Bridge Street in the city centre has trained hundreds of young people in the hospitality industry.
Many of the trainees have moved on into paid employment while some have won awards for their cooking.
The eaterie has even had the Royal seal of approval, with visits in the past by the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and The Duchess of Cornwall.
However, the facility is now to close within the next few months.
After studying hospitality at the Northern Regional College in Newtownabbey, Matthew Magill's successful stint at Dr B's has led to a placement at the Ballygally Castle on the Antrim Coast Road for two days a week.
Matthew (18), from Larne, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 12 just as he started at Larne High School.
His father Kevin said: "Matthew got his diagnosis quite late but my wife and I had noticed some traits from about the age of 10. His eating was terrible and he ended up in hospital because he had lost so much weight."
Kevin says his son's eventual recovery and the later decision to pursue a career in catering led him to Dr B's which gave him "a whole new lease of life".
He said: "Matthew really came out of himself while at Dr B's and really enjoyed his time there. It was like a breath of fresh air as he made many friends and got so much experience.
"If Matthew doesn't ultimately get a full-time job, he'll have to go back to college when he could have stayed at Dr B's, but sadly now that is no longer an option.
"Given the great record that they have, it's sad that Dr B's and the hundreds of young people it has supported are now being cast aside. They found young people like Matthew jobs and gave them a place in life.
"Matthew could easily have become very depressed and lost hope for the future, but instead Dr B's gave him the belief that he could find employment."
Kevin added: "To have something that has changed people's lives close due to funding is really a shame."
Barnardo's NI assistant director Pamela Kirk said that the closure could not be avoided.
"We are very sorry to announce that sadly Dr B's Kitchen is going to close. This has been an extremely difficult decision for everyone.
"It is due to a number of factors including funding and trainee recruitment challenges. The combination of circumstances unfortunately means closure is unavoidable. Dr B's was established in 1991 and has made an enormous impact to the lives of hundreds of trainees. We are incredibly proud of all of them and all they have achieved."
She anticipates Dr B's will close by the end of the summer. Dr B's was funded through various channels including Barnardo's NI, the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme and jointly by the Departments for Communities and the Economy.
The Department for Communities said it "values the outcomes being delivered for people living with health conditions and disability through the European Social Fund".
It added: "The Department protected its existing baseline budget of £1.5m (in 2018/19) from cuts that applied across other programmes and services. Unfortunately, bids well exceeded available budget and all projects could not be funded."