Project: Smile For Life

Putting a smile on the face of every disabled and disadvantaged youngster

Working in the North East of England, Smile For Life empowers children and young people with disabilities and learning difficulties to achieve their potential to live a full and happy life. With support from the Foundation, the charity will provide a chef apprenticeship for one of its young people at Café Beam in Gosforth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Smile For Life supports young people with disabilities and learning difficulties in various ways. It provides equipment which makes their day-to-day lives easier, experiences that enable them to make memories and challenge themselves in new and exciting ways, and even help with bedroom and garden makeovers to create an environment which is more accessible and appropriate for their needs.

Young people can also attend the ‘Tuesday Club’, an accessible place for young people with a range of disabilities to come and keep active, make friends, and, above all, have fun. The social aspect of the club is invaluable; reducing isolation encouraging new friendships and improving their all-round wellbeing. Every year, Smile For Life also hosts a residential ‘Challenge Weekend’ which provides the opportunity for many young people to travel away from home with their friends and enjoy new physical activities and valuable social time together.

The charity has evolved and grown greatly during the 12 years since it was established. As a result of research with professionals, parents and carers, and young people, it became very clear that there is a long-term problem in disabled young people gaining employment upon leaving school. This is due to many factors; lack of awareness amongst employers, lack of support for young people making the transition, no opportunities to gain experience and confidence, and the suitability of roles available in the local jobs market.

As a direct result of this finding, the charity’s café ‘Café Beam’ was established in 2014 on its small premises in Gosforth; an active workplace where it can offer placements to youngsters with disabilities and learning difficulties who need support with their transition from education into the world of work. Café Beam is a beautiful café/bistro which is run by a team of young people with a variety of disabilities and learning difficulties. These youngsters help to prepare all of the produce, serve customers, operate tills and handle money as well as welcoming many different members of the community both as volunteers and customers.

Outcomes to date at the café have been wide and varied: all of the young people have learned new skills which are transferable to many workplaces, they have gained real life work experience through maintaining high standards of customer service, handling money, taking orders using modern technology, and communicating effectively with colleagues and customers.

Unexpected outcomes have also been abundant; the increase in confidence and mental well being of the youngsters by having a meaningful role and being a valuable member of a team, the motivation to travel to the workplace independently has opened up a great freedom for many, and an increased social circle with many firm friendships developing between members of the team.

With support from the Foundation, Smile for Life has extended its provision by offering a chef apprenticeship at Café Beam. The chef apprenticeship will be based predominantly in the kitchen as a trainee chef, although front of house duties and the administration side of the industry will also be taught as part of the role. The position is for 30 hours per week over 18 months and will offer one to one support and training for a youngster with autism so that they will receive all necessary skills and knowledge to move into a full-time position when the 18 months are complete.

Building on the success of the Cafe Beam model, the Foundation supported Smile for Life further towards the launch of its second cafe at Ouseburn Farm. This aims to provide opportunities for more young people to enjoy a work placement, learning new skills, gaining confidence and enjoying real work experience. It will also create a progressive route for young people graduating from Café Beam, as Ouseburn Farm provide many further opportunities; caring for farm animals, tending to the working garden, or working in their gift shop!

Smile For Life
Opening Cafe Beam
Chef apprentice, James