‘We can be a conduit for their hopes and dreams’

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The rich aroma of coffee fills the air and delicious-looking lemon drizzle cakes and chocolate and cinnamon tarts jostle for space with silky chocolate cake.

But Lily and Lime is no ordinary cafe – and owner Anita Godson is not an ordinary woman.

Salvatore Usai and Anita Godson at Lily and Lime,  now part of Aspex art gallery,  Gunwharf Quays   Picture: Malcolm Wells

Salvatore Usai and Anita Godson at Lily and Lime, now part of Aspex art gallery, Gunwharf Quays Picture: Malcolm Wells

Inspired by a tragedy which saw her and husband Salvatore lose their two daughters to a cruel illness, Anita is opening up a world of opportunity to people with learning disabilities by training them up for work.

Last year Anita, 59, opened Lily and Lime in Aspex art gallery, Gunwharf Quays.

It is a unique social enterprise which employees young people with learning disabilities across the business.

From field to fork, the 35 learners aged between 18 and 40 work on the cafe’s allotment, where they grow squash, potatoes and beetroot.

It’s just an absolute joy to see these young people moving on and being included in an adult world where before some of them were sitting at home watching daytime TV

Anita Godson

They learn about food production, including the bottling of home-made chutneys and pickles.

Anita believes it’s also imperative that students understand the provenance of the food and they are taken to meet producers.

And they are taught everything in between – including pricing, alcohol, food hygiene and money skills.

That’s before they even get to the baking and cooking stages at Aspex.

Anita Godson with her daughters Sophie and Alexandra

Anita Godson with her daughters Sophie and Alexandra

Anita says: ‘They are very switched on – and cheeky.

‘They are always trying to catch me out.

‘If I walk in without an apron on they’ll stop me in my tracks and make sure I’m following the rules!’

Anita and Salvatore, 52, of Leigh Road, suffered a double tragedy with the loss of their beloved twin daughters Alexandra and Sophie.

Both were born with Rett Syndrome, a condition affecting the development of the brain.

Alexandra died at Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2009, aged just 17, after spinal fusion surgery.

Sophie died after catching an infection, aged 20.

Anita, whose son is a trainer for Lily and Lime, had devoted herself for caring for the girls.

And she says the cafe is their legacy.

‘After we lost the girls a lot of my friends said they thought they would never see me again, it was such trauma.

‘I was so involved, not just in their lives, but with other young people as well.

‘I just wanted to continue. It is very much their legacy.’

Despite the tragedy, it would be difficult to find a more positive person than Anita.

A smile is never far from her lips, she has a ready laugh and is simply fizzing with enthusiasm.

Describing the moment she first stepped foot in Aspex to discuss the plans with Jo Bushnell, the gallery’s director, she says: ‘I threw my hands in the air with joy.

‘I thought, if they could see this they would be inspired. It is really aspirational – the gallery is Gunwharf’s best kept secret. The coffee culture. It’s perfect.

‘That’s when I thought of our slogan, “Eat well, do good”.’

Anita does not have a background in food but has always enjoyed cafe culture and felt sure it was the perfect way to teach students who need that extra help.

She says: ‘They all arrive and they say, “I won’t be able to do that”.

‘We break it down into bite-sized stages.

‘By the end of the day, when we reflect on what they’ve done, they realise they’ve done it – and they can’t believe it.

‘It’s just an absolute joy to see these young people moving on and being included in an adult world where some of them were sitting at home from Monday to Monday watching daytime TV.

‘And now they’ve got a future and some of them are going on to employment and work.’

Some students stay for three months while others stay for a year.

There is no pressure them to finish modules by a certain time.

But each week they move on to a different aspect of the business.

Some are now employed at Lily and Lime while others are going on to further training.

Reflecting on her experience with trying to find meaningful things for her daughters to do, Anita says: ‘I was a mum to two young adults who sadly died.

‘They were going through what is called transition.

‘At the time I was the chair of Hampshire Parent Carers Network and I was trying to find meaningful things for them to do in order for them to have a future.

‘I remember sitting in school with Sophie when she was 18, speaking to the headmistress.

‘She said, “You know what I’m going to say. There is nothing for her to do”.

‘I knew then I had to change the face of learning disability.

‘Lily and Lime is not without its challenges but people with learning disabilities can be included in society in a very positive way.

‘The benefits it gives them and their families is inestimable.

‘We can be the conduit for their hopes and dreams for the future.’