By Megan Stringer
A school in West Derby has opened a cafe ran by students with special needs, to encourage them to acquire skills which will help them gain key work experience to help with employment in the future.
The cafe aims to break down barriers about people with special needs, and to make people realise everyone has a role in the workplace, regardless of any barriers people may face.
Sandy Park Café is ran by students from Sandfield Park School, and opened on 15th January. It is open from 8am – 5pm and currently has eight students regularly working at the cafe, who are learning new skills, which they can take to other employment in the future.
The cafe is open to the public, and is a non-profit business, set up purely to help young people gain valuable work experience that they might not get otherwise. It gets many visitors throughout the day, from builders to neighbouring residents, so it gives the students plenty of time to gain beneficial communication skills talking to many different types of people.
Mersey Mash reporter Megan Stringer visited the cafe, and was greeted with friendly faces by all, including headteacher of Sandfield Park School, Mark Hilton, who regularly spends his lunch breaks in the cafe.
Currently, only 6% of people with Special Needs and Disabilities gain employment. Mr Hilton realised something needed to be done, and told Mersey Mash where he got the inspiration to open the cafe from. He said: “I heard about a similar cafe at a special school in Northampton, but it was in the school grounds. I wanted one in the community.
“The cafe was set up to provide good work experience opportunities for pupils with special needs and disabilities. It links to our employability strategy alongside supported internships.
The students learn a range of skills whilst working in the cafe, for example; greeting and serving customers, taking orders, clearing and wiping tables, brushing floors, loading/unloading dishwasher, wrapping cutlery in serviettes and unpacking deliveries.
He also added what the response has been like from the residents living near to the cafe and the local community, stating: “The local community have been incredibly supportive, making very positive comments and helping our students develop their skills.”
Although Sandy Park Cafe is the only site of its kind offered by Sandfield Park School at the moment, the head teacher believes it is not going to be the last, saying: “We want to help others do similar projects in their community”.
Sandy Park Cafe is open 8am – 5pm and can be found at 158A Derby Lane, L13 6QQ.