Young people with disabilities breaking down barriers

A group photo of first cohort of trainees  for Tea in the Park, pictured with Social Inclusion Manager Gavin Melly and Project Leader Jennie Marshall.
A group photo of first cohort of trainees for Tea in the Park, pictured with Social Inclusion Manager Gavin Melly and Project Leader Jennie Marshall.

A group of young people who have disabilities are putting themselves at the heart of the community and gaining invaluable skills through an educational training facility.

While to many it is a place to get a good cup of coffee or tea while the little ones run around in the Playtrail, ‘Tea in the Park’ is actually also helping young people with disabilities break down barriers.

The horsebox before it was upgraded.

The horsebox before it was upgraded.

Gavin Melly, Inclusion Officer, said they had been toying with the idea of setting up a tea and coffee facility at the Playtrail for a number of years.

“During this time we have been putting young people out on work placement, but we have struggled to put them on meaningful work placements where they are actually going to build transferable skill so we decided to open our own cafe on site.

“We came up with the idea of transforming a caravan or something similar to provide amenities for the community and to give our young people work placement throughout the year, where they will learn so much more.”

The retro-fitted horsebox is run and managed by the young people, who are supported by project leader Jennie Marshall and other members of staff.

The completed horsebox which is home to Tea in the Park.

The completed horsebox which is home to Tea in the Park.

The young people are also at the heart of the decision making process and all profits raised will be re-invested back into the project.

Gavin revealed that they spent months sourcing the coffee machine and tills, which have pictures, and the produce.

“In January we recruited the first 11 young people and they went through a six week training programme. They did customer service, communication, food hygiene, personal hygiene and cash handling.

“They also did two days in the food innovation centre in the NWRC and got full barista training. Even though we use a bean to cup machine, we wanted the young people to have the knowledge and understanding of what they are doing.”

Jack Loughrey

Jack Loughrey

In keeping with the ethos of the Playtrail, Tea in the Park is stocking fair trade coffee, tea and sugar and all the cups, lids, napkins and stirrers are compostable. The water bottles are sourced from a learning disability group in Larne.

“What is beautiful about them is there is a code at the back of each bottle and if you visit their website and type in the code it tells you all about the person who made the bottle,” Gavin explained.

He said the young people get support and training every day and are ‘fighting over doing shifts’.

“The young people have been loving it. Often they come in an hour early and offer to work on because they enjoy it so much. There was one trainee who didn’t want to go to a concert because they wanted to work.

“They have a real sense of belonging and they have pride in what they are doing and it is encouraging social inclusion. The support from the community has been really overwhelming and it is preparing our young people for real life opportunities and providing them with transferable skills.

“I have seen massive growth in some of them over the last couple of months.”

Tea in the Park is open seven days a week Mon-Fri 11am-5:30pm, Sat 12pm-5pm, Sun 1pm-5pm.