PEOPLE with learning disabilities were at risk of losing their chance to experience real-life work when a community organisation ended its lease on a café they worked in.
But thanks to The Right to Work CIC, a Havant-based company that focuses on making a difference in the lives of those with learning disabilities, the hardworking cooks, cleaners and servers can continue doing what they enjoy at Hewitt’s Café in Emsworth.
The venture is run by the volunteers and reopened to the public yesterday with almost 120 guests including the workers’ friends, families, and Havant MP Alan Mak.
Debbie Lyall, who started The Right to Work six years ago and is its managing director, said she was not prepared to let the workers lose their work opportunities.
She said: ‘The café used to be a luncheon club for older people run by our volunteers, but Right to Work prepared and cooked the food, so we were always involved.
‘But when I found out Community First was giving up its lease on the building in June, I knew I couldn’t let the volunteers lose what is probably the only chance in their week to be completely independent and around like-minded people, doing things that help them gain confidence and grow as people.
‘I could see could see how much they gained from doing it and I couldn’t bare for them to lose out.
‘Our volunteers now completely run the café with support from our staff and do everything from preparing the food to cooking it and serving – and they absolutely love doing it.’
The café is open from 9am-3.30pm Monday to Friday, and anyone is welcome to pop-in for snacks and/or a light lunch.
The centre, in South Street, also has a room available for hire, which Debbie said she wants the community to use. The whole centre can also be hired at weekends and in the evenings.
‘Hewitt’s offers a home-cooked lunch each day for older, isolated or marginalised people,’ she added.
‘Locals are unsure of what the centre is and we need people to know that we are a café, open to everyone, regardless of age.
‘In essence we need it to be well-used and a success so it delivers increased work opportunities and more paid work opportunities for this wonderful group of people.
‘Our reopening was fabulous and enjoyed by all.’
The 18 volunteers running the café are from across the borough of Havant and are aged 19-50.
Havant MP Alan Mak said he hopes the new venture will flourish and build on the success Right To Work CIC has had in getting more people with learning disabilities into work.
He added: ‘I was delighted to help reopen Hewitt’s Café and meeting some of the enthusiastic and excellent staff.
‘It’s a great opportunity for people with learning disabilities to experience real work, serving members of the public.
‘I would encourage all residents to visit the café and support the venture.’