Training restaurant saved as backers point to gap in loans market
A RESTAURANT which trains young people with learning difficulties and was on the brink of closure is one of 36 groups in Northern Ireland to have benefited from a £1 million fund.
The One Eighty Restaurant in Portadown, which is run by Step by Step, is among those to have been helped by the the Building Better Futures fund, which provides small, unsecured loans to social enterprises and charities.
Since opening in 2011, the restaurant has provided training to dozens of young people, while offering a value-for-money menu to the public.
The Building Better Futures fund, which has provided amounts ranging from £1,000 to £25,000, said it had given the restaurant "its support at a time when the business could not realistically have secured mainstream support".
The fund has also helped create a role-play based centre in Derry, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.
Operated by Kidz Playtime, the centre's profits will help subsidise counselling services for children and young people.
Nigel Hampton from Step by Step, said: "Without the support of the Building Better Futures fund, One Eighty was facing closure after the loss of a major funder.
"Seventy-five per cent of our trainees move on to sustainable employment and the remainder take up other training provision or alternative day opportunities.
"This is a vital service for young people and it would have been disastrous for them if the restaurant had closed."
The backers of the fund - Belfast Charitable Society, Building Change Trust and the Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT) - believe its success points to a gap in the Northern Ireland loan market.
Paula Reynolds of Belfast Charitable Society said: "Interest in the Building Better Futures fund has exceeded all our expectations and points to a gap in the loan market for smaller, unsecured facilities".