Ayrshire venue is breaking barriers

Kilmarnock social enterprise championing those in need

Raising the bar: Nicola Caldwell (left) and Fiona Fawdry of WG13

By Jack Walsh

WHEN Kilmarnock bar and restaurant, WG13, was crowned National Champion at this year’s Best Bar None Scotland Awards, it was to the surprise and delight of the team behind the venue.

New to the nationwide scheme, which promotes best practice in licensed premises, Fiona Fawdry and Nicola Caldwell of WG13 told SLTN they couldn’t believe it when the venue was crowned the overall winner, as well as best Specialist Entertainment Venue, at the awards ceremony at Dunblane Hydro on March 29.

“It took a few days for it to sink in, it was absolutely unbelievable,” said job coach Nicola, who added, “it felt like everyone was pleased for us… it was great for us that people were actually listening”.

That was important to the team because WG13 is no regular bar and restaurant, but rather a social enterprise with a story to tell.

Opened in October 2015 following the concept’s inception in 2011 by Scottish charity The Council of Voluntary Organisations (East Ayrshire), which is part of a Scotland-wide network of support organisations, WG13’s aim from the outset has been to aid young people with additional support needs into further employment and/or education.

It felt like everyone was pleased for us, it was great that people were listening.

Fiona Fawdry, chief executive of the charity, said WG13 (an arm of the charity) looks to aid “anyone who has any additional support needs in terms of moving closer to employment”.

“We have people with learning disabilities, we have people who have [gone through] care; it’s for anyone who has a barrier,” said Fiona.

Occupying a former estate agents at 13 West George Street, WG13 is set across three floors – The Dining Room, The Drawing Room, and The Digital Room; each floor aims to give the trainees a taste of different sectors, from hospitality, to events management, to IT. However, The Dining Room – a 46-cover space which is overseen by head chef Harry Short – is the main focus of the course for many of the trainees.

Fiona explained: “In terms of what the trainees do in here, they can basically do anything; they might choose initially to do front of house, and then they see cooking and think ‘I’d like to try that’. They also get the opportunity to do domestic and IT work.”

Working with Ayrshire College, the team at WG13 takes on up to 12 recruits twice a year who work to complete a bespoke 26 week course.

WG13 in Kilmarnock first opened its doors in October 2015

“It’s really all about a training opportunity for young people, but also marrying that training, which they do a day a week up in the college, with that practical work experience; so you’re getting a real confidence builder, personal development, working as a part of a team – it’s a real life work experience alongside the training,” said Fiona.

And it’s going from strength to strength, according to Nicola, who said the course, which is now on its fifth ‘batch’ of trainees, offers the trainees life skills too.

“It might just be ‘hands-on’ learning, which for most of our guys it is – they’ve not excelled at school because they’ve got that disability, or they’re disengaging because of social problems – so actually showing them how to do something and getting them to do it, it’s amazing how well they can do it,” said Nicola.

“The pride they take in it is second to none; they never lose it.

It’s that personal development; it’s a feeling of self worth they get from it.

“Even when they’ve finished (the course) they come back. They’re either working or at college and they want to tell you what they’ve been doing.

“One of our boys, he’s on to Level 7 cookery and he was one of our first trainees and to see how much he’s progressed; he looks different. I think his head is held higher; he’s proud of himself and to have that pride in yourself, I think that’s what’s missing – they don’t realise how good they can be.

Fiona added: “It’s that personal development. It’s a feeling of self worth they get from it.”

And while it was no picnic establishing WG13, with the help of local businessman, Alex Watson, who purchased the building and contributed to the renovation, as well as financial backing of various partners, it’s been a worthwhile endeavour, according to Fiona.

“It took a few years to get it up and running, but it’s been worth it,” she said.

Looking ahead, the team is eyeing expansion, with plans in the pipeline for an additional, smaller facility, which would allow the trainees to experience outside catering first-hand.

And the Best Bar None Awards has shone a light on WG13’s bespoke training approach, reckons Fiona, who said: “It’s created a lot of interest in what we’re doing.

“It shows that [the awards] are for everyone.”