The Outside the Box cafe in Ilkley, West Yorkshire

Note: In the UK, the term of ‘Learning disability’ is used instead of ‘Intellectual disability’.

To read on The Guardian website:

Yorkshire cafe serves up job skills for people with disabilities

A project that began as a lunch-only cafe is helping disabled people find work in the wider community

 Outside the Box cafe

Henry working in the kitchen of the Outside The Box cafe. Photograph: Outside the Box

If you go to the Outside the Box cafe in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, at lunchtime you might struggle to get a table. Business meetings jostle for space with parents and toddlers, here to enjoy the artisan coffee and locally grown fruit and vegetables.

The cafe was set up as a charity by Ilkley Community Enterprise five years ago to provide unpaid work experience for adults with disabilities. Initially open just at lunchtimes, the cafe became so popular that it’s now open seven days a week, from 9am to 4pm. In 2016 it won Ilkley Business Forum’s Hospitality Business of the Year Award, and the following year it picked up the People’s Choice Award.

The enterprise team quickly realised that some of the adults they were working with needed something beyond the cafe, so they set up OTB Works in 2016. With an eight-week work club delivered in partnership with the North Yorkshire adult learning and skills service, the project helps members of the scheme prepare for work through qualifications in occupational and employability studies, cookery and customer service.

The club covers CV development, meeting employers and employees, and interview preparation.

The scheme’s first graduate, Imogen, now works in a local store eight hours a week. “Before Outside the Box, I spent my time just at home, doing nothing,” she says. “Now I have a job at Specsavers, I am out and about and never bored. OTB supported me in getting there.

“Before, I was left to my own devices. I would have been terrified even thinking about working – but I am much happier to go for jobs now with their help. I have lots more confidence, I am customer friendly and can do more than I thought I could.”

OTB Works has more than 55 members, aged from 17 to over 60, who have physical or learning disabilities. Most start working at the cafe before moving on to other opportunities – or doing both.

There is an understanding that everyone’s needs are different. “For some it might be paid work, for others it might be volunteering opportunities,” says Jenna Peel, manager of Outside the Box. “It’s very much open and dependent on the individual.”

Emily at her part-time job at Booths supermarket.
Emily working at Booths supermarket. Photograph: Outside the Box

When they join OTB Works, members are carefully matched with one of the 14 mentors, who have each gone through an induction process and who may go on to support the members in their work settings. After an assessment, the enterprise team – which includes employment, healthcare and adult education specialists – sets goals and looks at a suitable placement. Typically, members take on one four-hour shift at the cafe at the start, while some do two to four shifts a week, depending on other commitments.

Last summer, three members were offered a work trial at the supermarket Booths, and two of them now have paid work at the shop. Other members have volunteered for the local literary festival and art trail.

Ilkley’s businesses have been keen to get on board with the scheme, says Jane Sanderson, OTB’s employment support worker: “It’s a small town and the people here are really keen to see them do well.”

Kevin Rogerson is the general manager of Ilkley pub the Black Hat, where one of OTB’s members, James, has been on an unpaid work placement for the last four months.


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