Eighteen months ago, myself and a colleague, Cheryl, were working together in a local specialist college: she was the Deputy Principal and I was the Speech and Language Therapist. We were both bemoaning the fact that, although we were working hard to provide young people with the skills that they required to move on from the college in to a more independent life style. Realistically we were well aware that meaningful opportunities away from college would be few and very far between. We decided we wanted to do something about it; and so the idea of the café was born.
We wanted to be able to offer an environment that would allow for people to gain skills at all levels, where they could be fully and appropriately supported and where they were offered a meaningful work experience in a well positioned setting. Our initial idea was to find our own premises, but with very limited resources we were encouraged to consider other options and so we approached the people who own the Central building in Claremont Street to put our idea to them. They were very supportive of our idea and offered us their reception area to open our café.
The café opened in September 2012, for two days a week. We employ one member of staff, Karen, who has plenty of both café and supporting experience. She has been invaluable in helping us to get started and for providing our highly acclaimed homemade soups and coleslaw. The rest of the team are all volunteers.
We currently offer volunteering opportunities to three people, and work experience placements to two Severndale students. We are also in the process of developing a training opportunity for another young lady who hopes to be placed with us for the next six months.
Our aim is to support people in whatever way they need. So far, we have been helping one gentleman to obtain his level 2 food hygiene certificate, and hope to be able to support him on to a more permanent work placement in catering. Another gentleman has come to be with us, to rebuild his self confidence after a period of illness.
We do not expect people to be with us forever. We really want to see them use the experience to move towards a more permanent opportunity and we are looking at how we can work together with our local community to support this.
We are now a recognised Makaton Friendly café and we try to make the cafe as inclusive as possible by offering a range of systems to support people with communication difficulties, easy to use equipment and experienced and supportive staff. We use MyChoicePad on an iPad Mini. MyChoicePad helps people on their work experience take orders and experience serving customers independently and confidently. We also use MyChoicePad to create accessible menus.
With our new outside seating all ready for Spring and Summer we are feeling very excited about the future of our cafe.We have been so pleased by the support we have had so far. The local community have been really encouraging and we have been thrilled to see so many return customers.
You can visit The Links Cafe at Central, the Baptist Church Community Centre in Shrewsbury town centre on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm for a range of hot and cold drinks, homemade sandwiches, soups and yummy cakes!
In the future we are hoping to be able to take The Links Café out to other parts of Shropshire, providing a café experience in some of the more remote and isolated parts of the county. We are also looking at how we can develop our training opportunities, to provide support to a greater number of people. Please let us know if this is something your local community may be interested in.
For more information contact as us on firstname.lastname@example.org or follow what we are up to on Twitter @TheLinksCafe, or find us on Facebook.
See also the Communication Funday blog