Gateshead cafe owner giving young adults with learning disabilities a chance to work

A Washington woman has started a new career path in a bid to help young adults with additional needs the opportunity to work.

Lynn Rawkins, 50, opened Quirky little coffee company in Birtley with the aim of giving young adults with additional needs the opportunity for some hands-on work experience to help them gain the confidence they need to enter the job market.

She said: "I volunteered with a local charity - Skills 4 Work Gateshead - before Covid while I was there I found out how hard it is to get in employment for young people. I wasn’t happy and wanted to help ‘young adults’ so in November 2021 I opened the café. Which is something I always wanted to do."

The café is working hand to hand with the charity in bringing employment to her café. Tracey Wallace, founder and development manager at Skills 4 Work Gateshead, said: “We are proud that five of our young people have progressed into paid employment during the pandemic and continue to develop and thrive as a result.

“We are very grateful for the support of the local business community and Lynn is an excellent example of a local employer supporting our young people to progress.”

The charity supports young people from across Gateshead who have a mild learning need and/or poor mental health. They run a weekly work placement programme that offers much-needed experience and the opportunity for young people to demonstrate their skills and ability.

Andrew Malia, 26, a volunteer at the café said: "I really enjoy working in the quirky café and the experience. Lynn was absolutely brilliant she helped me a lot I enjoyed using the different appliances which were the coffee machine, making the tea, and using the machine for the milk. I am really looking forward to going back and all the customers made me very welcome so a big thanks to everyone."

Lynn added: “I strongly believe as a community we need to highlight the lack of opportunities there are for people with additional needs and to show how capable and willing they are to work, learn and grow and have the same aspirations as everyone else.”

In February 2022, Lynn offered a part-time position for Owen who has autism in February 2022. She said: "His mum had visited our café and asked if her son could work at the café, and I was more than happy to welcome him. It's nice to see him progress and build his confidence."

Owen's mum has been seeing her son grow in confidence since he started working at the café. She said: "We went out for tea tonight and after the three of us discussed what we were having to eat we went to order at the bar. Before I could speak he just took over and ordered the three starters and mains… and then even noticed and corrected the server when she read everything back with the main missing.

"He was so confident and it melted me to see him in this new light. It was just so lovely to see. I believe it shows the things we take for granted like ordering food, which can be a very nerve-racking experience for people with additional needs."