Traditional cafe helps disabled get employment

Natalie Lane, right, and Sharon Parslow at The Pantry cafe in Fratton with customer Mark Parratt

Natalie Lane, right, and Sharon Parslow at The Pantry cafe in Fratton with customer Mark Parratt

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A NEW cafe has opened to give people with learning disabilities the chance to gain vital work experience to boost their CV.

The Pantry, at the Victory Business Centre, in Somers Road, Fratton, has taken on five staff members each with a varying degree of disability, including Downs Syndrome and autism.

It is run by charity Pathways, formally known as People First Care, and hopes to equip its staff with the skills to in the future.

One staff member, Sharon Parlow, who has mild learning disabilities, recently tried to volunteer at a charity shop.

Her services were refused because she did not know how to operate a till.

Sharon, 45, of Green Farm Gardens, Hilsea, said: ‘It was upsetting when they said they didn’t need me because I really wanted to do it.

‘I told them I wanted to learn how to use the till but they never got back to me. I know how to use it now, because I learned here.

‘It’s great to be working again. My last job was about 20 years ago and I was getting bored at home because I didn’t really have anything to do. Here I get to meet lots of new people and chat with them.’

Funds raised from the cafe go towards the organisation’s support centre, also in Victory Business Centre, which offers activity workshops and day trips for people with learning disabilities.

But those at Pathways are keen to stress that the main focus of the cafe is to provide a stepping stone into employment.

Working alongside Sharon is 24-year-old Natalie Lane, who also has mild learning disabilities.

Natalie, of Kingston Crescent, North End, helps prepare and cook food, as well as operating the till and serving customers.

‘I have learned so much here that I didn’t know before,’ she said. ‘And I think it will be much easier for me to get a job now, especially because I know how to work the till.’

Once staff members are confident with the basics of serving customers and cooking, they are then trained in more advanced aspects of the catering industry, such as stock taking, placing delivery orders and merchandising.

Sue Goodbrand, the organisation’s managing director, said: ‘Because we understand disability, we can help our support staff’s needs and help them lean the skills they require to get a job.’

The Pantry is open from 8am to 3pm, Monday to Friday.

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