Frontline: The Whole-Baked Cafe

Sarah Speight

What it is: A CSV-run cafe and training project for people with medium to severe learning difficulties.

What it does: Helps people to build social and work skills, and possibly find employment. Functions as a daytime cafe and catering service.

How it's funded: The project receives £120,000 per year; £50,000 from the European Social Fund, the rest from City of Bristol College and Bristol Social Services. All profits from the cafe are used to cover the costs of training.

The bustling Whole-Baked Cafe in Bristol could be mistaken for any ordinary lunchtime eatery. Yet this is a cafe with a difference - many of the staff have learning difficulties.

The project involves a catering course for people with a learning disability who wish to gain new skills and find employment. Many of the students are on benefits and have never had a job. Following the course, trainees have gone on to find jobs in Tesco, a local cinema and an elderly people's home.

Kirsty Stallard, a 30 year-old trainee with Down's Syndrome, said: "I feel great. I like working here, it's the best job for me. I could get a paid job here when I've finished my training."

The cafe provides training towards a series of qualifications, including Food Hygiene, Numeracy, and WorkRight - a certificate of general work skills such as health and safety, and communication. Trainees are usually referred to the project by their social worker, parents or day centre.

Under supervision by paid staff, the trainees prepare hot and cold food in the kitchen and serve customers in the cafe. Ellie Smith, chef trainer, says the training is very hands-on, and theory is kept to a minimum. "We teach as the scenario arises - this puts things into context, so it's a real learning experience," she commented.

It takes from a few months to a couple of years to complete the course, depending on a trainee's needs. For many at the project, the best thing is seeing the boost in people's confidence. Smith added: "The great thing about this project is that it caters for individuals. They learn at their own pace."

Trainee Richard Cowley, who has been at the cafe for a year, hopes to land a job at Marks & Spencer. He said: "I found the course difficult at first, but now I've got the hang of it. It has taught me a lot, so one day I could cook all this food at home."

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