The Big Interview: Rainbow on road to a bright future

Working at Cafe Rainbow are from left, manager Julie Doughty, Nessa Jackson and Lauren Rayner, 19, who attends Grantham College. Photo: 0256A
Working at Cafe Rainbow are from left, manager Julie Doughty, Nessa Jackson and Lauren Rayner, 19, who attends Grantham College. Photo: 0256A
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A cafe which employs people with learning disabilities at Grantham Tennis Club is exceeding expectations, 
according to its manager.

Julie Doughty has been in charge of Cafe Rainbow since it opened in April at the new Grantham Tennis Club on Gonerby Road which was built at a cost of £3.5 million. The cafe is run by Mencap and employs 16 people with learning disabilities on a voluntary basis with volunteers working two at a time.

The cafe is open seven days a week and gives its trainee volunteers work experience with a view to progressing to voluntary or paid employment locally as well as building up their confidence and their social skills.

The Journal talked to Julie, who has a background in teaching people with learning disabilities, about the progress Cafe Rainbow is making.

How did Cafe Rainbow start?

Judith, our Mencap chairman, wanted to start up a cafe for people with learning difficulties to gain useful work experience so we can develop their skills. The majority of volunteers have left education and are looking for the next stepping stone. They are aged from 15 to 34 years. We work with Jobcentre Plus who send people to us for work experience on an 8 week block and also with the Ready for Work programme at Grantham College. 
Judith had wanted this for a long time. Grantham Tennis Club approached Grantham and District Mencap Ltd and asked if we would like to run the cafe for them. And I was taken on as the manager.

How does it benefit the volunteers?

We have mentors who look after the volunteers with learning difficulties. We will have two volunteers working in the cafe at any time. They will learn to work the till, makes drinks, clear tables, in the kitchen the volunteers experience working with different equipment, learning basic knife skills and food safety. This is not just vocational work for them, it is about developing their social skills and personal skills. Everything we do in the cafe, they will do as well. They are stretched but we do not put them out of their comfort zone. We are currently looking for funding to enable us to provide an in-depth training programme for our volunteers and support them through their transition to their next step to employment.

Is the cafe an integral part of the tennis club?

The cafe is open from 7am to 7pm weekdays and 9am to 5pm at weekends to cater for those people who use the tennis courts and the gym. But we are not just here for the people who use the tennis club. We are open to the public as well and we would like to think it is a welcoming environment they will enjoy. We offer an extensive menu including paninis, baguettes, jacket potatoes and our daily specials. All food including our cakes are prepared in the café. We also offer Sunday lunch.

How well is the cafe doing since it opened?

In the short time we have been open, the cafe has made a big difference to many of them. It really has exceeded my expectations. It is a very meaningful venture. I am very pleased with the way it is going because we have had some excellent feedback from customers. I think it is the quality of service and the friendly environment that people enjoy and I think a lot of people realise it is for a good cause.