Catering placements changing the lives of people with learning difficulties

Natasha and Gillian Harvey pictured at The Bobbin Cafe in Belfast City Hall.
Natasha and Gillian Harvey pictured at The Bobbin Cafe in Belfast City Hall.

A young woman from Carnmoney has spoken of the confidence she has gained after getting involved with a training programme in Belfast.

Natasha Harvey (22) from Carnmoney, was unsure what she wanted to do after leaving full time education when someone suggested she should contact NOW Group, an organisation who provide training and employment opportunities for people with learning difficulties and autism.

She got in touch and found out that NOW were offering catering placements in their cafes that provide the opportunity to get practical experience by working one day per week in one of the organisations social enterprise cafes, Loaf Cafe and Bakery on the Grosvenor Road and The Bobbin in City Hall, as well as one day in the classroom studying for an NVQ Level 1 in catering.

Natasha has been with Loaf for over a year now where she currently works two days per week in The Bobbin Cafe.

She has gained experience in customer service, food preparation as well as food hygiene and says that since beginning her training her confidence has improved.

Natasha said: “I think I have become more independent since I started here. In the cafe I help keep the place tidy by clearing tables, before I wouldn’t have chatted to strangers but now I am more confident and can talk to the customers.”

Before Natasha began her training with NOW, she relied on her mum to give her lifts everywhere as she did not have the confidence to travel by herself on the bus.

As part of her training with NOW she completed route training which teaches participants how to travel on public transport by themselves, Natasha is now happy to get the bus from her home in Newtownabbey into Belfast to go to Loaf or to meet up with friends.

Talking about her route training Natasha explained: “One day I was in class for my NVQ course just off the Falls Road when a few girls I had met through NOW came up to meet me and show me how to get the bus back down into town.

“This was really nice of them and helped me be more confident getting the bus.”

Natasha’s mum, Gillian Harvey says that she has noticed a difference in Natasha since she began her placement.

Gillian said: “Before Natasha wasn’t able to get the bus by herself so I would give her a lift to places and have to go back to give her a lift home. Now she is happy to get the bus into town herself and even goes in to meet friends she has made through NOW.

“I’m grateful that the NOW trainee scheme is giving Natasha the chance to gain work experience. My hope is that Natasha would gain permanent paid employment in the future, even just a few hours a week.

“All we want is the opportunity for our children to prove themselves; just because someone has a learning difficulty does not mean they aren’t capable of working. My dream is for someone to give Natasha a chance.”

NOW Group currently have catering trainee opportunities available for people with a learning difficulty or autism.

Students get the opportunity to learn the theory of catering by studying towards an NVQ for half a day during the week as well as gaining practical in one of Loaf’s cafes or outside catering business for one day per week.

If you would like to find out more information, get in touch with Anne Cheevers on 028 9043 6400 or email anne.cheevers@nowgroup.org

NOW Group recently won Social Enterprise of the Year at the Belfast Business Awards and is the parent organisation of Loaf Cafes and Catering which run The Bobbin cafe in City Hall, Loaf Cafe and Bakery on the Grosvenor Road opposite the entrance to the Royal Victoria Hospital and Loaf Catering an outside catering business delivering fresh food across Belfast find out more at www.nowgroup.org