​Cafe Hires People With Down Syndrome To Help Them Get Work Experience

A cafe in Leeds opened its doors earlier this month, not only to offer customers a good brew and a slice of cake, but also to employ people with Down Syndrome so they can gain work experience.

Cafe 21, which is operated by a parent-led charity called Sunshine and Smiles, gives seven young adults aged 18-24 the opportunity to work in the kitchen and front of house - all of whom are paid the national living wage.

The charity cafe serves up homemade cakes, food and gifts, but in a unique twist to the traditional formula, it is also specifically committed to helping people with Down Syndrome get jobs.

Staff at the cafe are able to go for a number of different roles depending on their preference, with one worker, 21-year-old Kathryn O'Donnell, helping take orders, clear tables and prepare food.

21-year-old Kathryn O'Donnell. Credit: SWNS
21-year-old Kathryn O'Donnell. Credit: SWNS

Ailith Harley-Roberts, 47, helped launch the cafe on 12 January following a 'very successful' trial week that took place in March last year.

Ailith said: "The young people here have thrived.

"When we had the trial, it was just for a week and it felt like such a shame to have to close the doors.

"Since then, the charity have sought funding to re-open and I think it is brilliant we have now been able to launch."

The cafe is open from Thursday through to Sunday, and is now a permanent fixture in Leeds for at least the next six months.

The cafe opened on 12 January. Credit: SWNS
The cafe opened on 12 January. Credit: SWNS

Ailith said she hopes the cafe will remain a hit with people, adding: "Even after being open for a week, we have provided health and safety training to our staff which they will be able to put on their CV.

"I have spoke to one parent who said their son has been setting his alarm each morning and can't wait to come into work.

"That is what it is all about. The support we have had is phenomenal."

The project was launched by parent-led charity Sunshine & Smiles. Credit: SWNS
The project was launched by parent-led charity Sunshine & Smiles. Credit: SWNS

She said she expects the young employees to 'thrive' through their work at the cafe, working as part of a team of 14 staff, and in turn learning transferable skills to help in their future careers.

Ailith added: "Some of the staff want to be customer-facing, others love doing stock taking or working in the back.

"There is so much involved, they are learning a lot about customer service."

The project was funded with help from The Seedbed Trust and The Wesleyan Foundation, while Sunshine and Smiles is a charity that helps children and young people across Leeds by providing speech and language therapy, regular groups and activities, individual support and advocacy for families.

Featured Image Credit: SWNS

Jess Hardiman

Jess Hardiman is a journalist who graduated from Manchester University with a BA in Film Studies, English Language and Literature, and has previously worked for Time Out and The Skinny among others.

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