Formally Known as SHAW Project, SHAW’s origins lie in the ‘Care in the Community’ legislation in the 1970’s. In 1978 a number of interested parties saw this enabling legislation as an opportunity to provide a better life for a number of people with disability.

Their initial focus was in the Tynedale area. That early vision anticipated the creation of a village and public consultation and viability studies were motivated. The availability of a potential location on the site of Wooley Hospital was key to the early thinking, such a site offering the potential to develop opportunities for sheltered employment for those people who would reside in the proposed village.

A steering group of interested and suitably qualified people met regularly to progress this initiative. One of the two initiators of the project was Ian Hall, a manager at SHAW prior to his retirement in 2003. Matters were purposefully driven along by Mrs Jean McCallum, then Chairman of Northumberland Community Health Council. Jean continued her involvement and solid commitment to SHAW in various capacities including; Member, Chairman, Vice Chairman and six years as President.

Discussions took place with the Housing Corporation and it became clear that the village concept was not the way forward. Efforts were then directed to finding a suitable site for housing and a County Council owned site in Cramlington was identified. This site had the benefit of adjoining land available for lease which could be developed for horticultural purposes.

Whilst progressing the housing project with the Housing Corporation negotiations commenced with the Employment Service with a view to establishing what are now termed “supported businesses” (then called sheltered workshops).

The name SHAW, an acronym for “Sheltered Housing and Workshops”, was formally adopted in May 1981. In August 1982 SHAW engaged its first employee, a fundraiser, Diana Woodhall, and in the following months established itself as a Company Limited by Guarantee without Share Capital and subsequently became registered as a charity.

Neil Robinson MBE joined SHAW’s committee in January 1983. Around this time a great deal of negotiations were taking place trying to get everything in place – most particularly the funding streams. Following SEPACS grants in December 1984 matters were able to move forward and in May 1985 construction of a terrace of 10 houses on Keele Drive in Cramlington began with work on the adjacent Timber Workshops and Nursery glasshouses commencing in November that year. Early management appointments were made including that of SHAW’s longest serving appointee, John Gemmell. In February 1986 Neil Robinson became Chairman. Later that year SHAW’s first crop went to market.

On 23rd October 1987 Professor Bernard Tomlinson performed the formal opening and was to be the first of many distinguished visitors over the years. In 1989 Princess Diana visited SHAW at Cramlington and the Princess Royal visited SHAW’s display at the National Garden Festival. In more recent times we have received the Chief Constable for Northumbria, Crispian Strachan, and the then Minister for Equal Opportunities, Mrs. Margaret Hodge.

Over the years the services provided by the Charity evolve and developed as departments successful bid for contracts to provide support and innovative programmes to help people with disability.

The printing unit from Northgate Hospital was absorbed into SHAW in 1989 and is now known as Azure Printing, a very successful department within the Charity.

In 1991 the adjoining privately owned Garden Centre went into receivership. The Charity seized the opportunity and bought the business from the receiver and this continues to provide income and retail work and training opportunities for people with disability.

The Landscaping department set up in 1993 has, despite the tough market in which it operates, shown itself to be a solid contributor to the Charity’s mission.

The continuing development of Azure has not been without its problems. Market conditions regrettably forced the reluctant decision to close the Timber Product department in 1994. Fortunately everyone concerned was found or did themselves find alternative employment.

The Cramlington housing (Keele Drive), which remains a cornerstone of the Charity, has been complemented by other support activities and further housing. Sunderland Social Services granted the Charity licence to operate two registered homes in Washington (Tyne & Wear) and these were established in 1995.

Over the years a number of supported living contracts have been placed with Azure by Newcastle Social Services.

In July 2003 the Garden Centre took over the Rolawn distributorship acting as a perfect complement to our other trading activities and offering additional supported employment positions.

SHAW Project was official renamed Azure Charitable Enterprises in September 2005 with the Garden Centre being the last to rebrand in spring 2006.

Of necessity this history simply gives a flavour, with a little of the detail, of the early days and subsequent development of the Charity.

Mrs. Jean McCallum has written a detailed account of “SHAW – The Early Years 1978 to 1987”. A limited number of copies are available for a modest payment. Details upon request.

Should anyone require any further information please contact the Chief Executive. We welcome the opportunity to talk about our work and will happily provide a speaker to address relevant interested groups or organisations.