Ilkley community response to learning disability- "Sowing the seeds, then let them flower"

Local response- in the Constellation we define a local response (am citing Philip Forth from our blended learning programme)- A community can take action to deal with a challenge that it faces. These actions form a 'Local Response'. They contrast with a solution imposed on a community by experts from outside the community.Last week, Phil took us for a SALT visit in his town Ilkely. Here is what I observed on the local response. 

15th May 2017…Rainy morning in the picturesque town of Ilkley. A group of us walk into a cute little cafe - Outside the box. Relaxed environment, patchwork on walls and bright cushions greet us.  A charity Ilkley Community Enterprise Ltd runs this community café and offers people with learning disabilities to work in a busy social environment. 

Outside the box is not a drab charity eating joint but a stylish and well thought out with book swaps and magazines to read whilst having a cuppa.  Cheerful environment, lovely atmosphere…children's play area, colourful furniture and fittings, reasonably priced food, prompt service and spotlessly clean toilet:-)

This is a community determined initiative- launched in 2013. 6% of people with a learning disability are actually in work, although 65% state they want to find work. It is a statement from research through an organisation called Mencap explained to us Jenna Peel who manages the place. It is a commerical enterprise serving wholesome food and drinks. Those (called members) aged from 17 years with a learning disability play a major role in running the cafe.

The café has become an established part of the local community. Volunteers support members with learning disability to carry out their work. The aim is that 'members' independently handle all the tasks. Members have a key role in the cafe activities. Attempt is to include them as much as possible in the decision making.  Some of the members attend the Trust meetings and all changes in the cafe are based on the inputs received from them. They are involved in the selection process of the new entrants. "Adults and young people with a learning disability are at the heart of what we do. We didn't want to be doing 'it'." adds Jenna ( I notice from her voice and body language that this is more than a job for her). In the picture below she is second from the left. 

Excellent management of the cafe. I saw the jobs list of one of the members- Hannah. The job list also  mentioned how she will be supported by a volunteer on the allotted work . Members are encouraged to do different tasks. Hannah confidently remarks, " I love working on the till and of course I bake amazing scones!" Hannah is the third one on the left with an orange apron in the picture below.

The cafe is continuously improving - whether it is the menu or the opportunities. This includes taking feedback from the parents on their experience at home and using it in running of the cafe. Lately, the cafe is helping the members to move into paid employment and have been successful with members getting part time jobs at Spec savers, pet shop and super market. In such cases, volunteers provide support for members to settle into the new jobs.

What was our takeaway?

Cafe  and its social events have helped remove barriers between those with learning disability and the larger community through the volunteers and the customers who visit the cafe. Staffed by a core of 10 dedicated professionals plus a number of willing volunteers and 40  members- Outside the Box has people with and without disabilities  working side by side. Interestingly, there are different generations working in harmony. I would like to dig deeper into the inter-generational approach.

A life lesson for me- having some difficulties does not prevent one from taking an active role in employment or any other endeavour. Jenna makes this powerful observation- "People meet and integrate with those who have learning disabilities. Friendships and relationships have been formed. Community members now see the persons behind the learning disability."

Popularity of the cafe has risen and the management receives at least two applications for volunteers every week. This is a great amalgamation of business and social good. So, the ethos of the place impressed me, but for it to be viable, it has been able to compete with other eating places in the area. 

I will conclude with the heartwarming remark from MariJo (our storyteller team mate)- " I see this enterprise as sowing the seeds, then let them flower."

PS: Contents of the blog might be influenced by the cappicinno I was served - one of the best I ever had!

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