The 180 Restaurant looks set to close tomorrow (Saturday) despite a round of last-ditch meetings this week to try and keep it open.
The Mandeville Street restaurant, which provides training for young people with learning disabilities, had been hoping to find funding to secure its future, even in the short-term.
Its seven staff, five of whom are trained assessors, were given their redundancy notices earlier this week.
The 17 students, who have disabilities including Asperger’s and autism, have been offered the choice of continuing their Level 1 qualification in Introduction to the Hospitality Industry at Southern Regional College (SRC).
This week, Fiona Rowan, chairman of the Step by Step charity which runs the restaurant, attended a number of ministerial meetings as well as one with ABC Council.
She said that although there had been much praise for the food, the staff and the quality of training, no one had yet come up with an “alternative” to save it.
She added, “These young people are going to be left. Society has an awful lot to answer for. There has been phenomenal community support but unfortunately no funding. We need £60,000 for the next three months to give us time to apply for funding.
“There is nothing in the community for youngsters after the age of 19. The parents are distraught and some of the youngsters have been very anxious.”
Matthew Anderson, one of the assessors, said it was a blow to students and staff. He explained, “All the staff have been here practically since the restaurant opened five years ago.
“Some of our students will be going to SRC but others won’t. The redundancy doesn’t start until April 6 so we are hoping to get our third year students through their qualification.
“It’s an unsettling time for the students. I have noticed over the past few weeks that a couple of them have become very anxious.”
Over the past number of weeks, the group has met with ministers, MLAs, MPs and some business representatives.
There has also been a groundswell of support from the general public.
Ms Rowan also said that, contrary to certain rumours, she does not earn a large salary. She said. “I do not earn anything. All the directors are volunteers. I became involved because my daughter has a learning disability.”
She acknowledged the help of SRC. “They are proposing to create a mini 180 within their Oriel Bistro, as our youngsters are not used to being in a classroom all day,” she added.