A cafe with a conscience gets a makeover for a new start

There are exciting times ahead for Motherwell’s Windmills Cafe following a major refurbishment after it secured Big Lottery funding to help it reach out to the wider community.

The social enterprise cafe was set up as Windmills Cafe With a Conscience and it has lived up to its name offering youngsters aged between 16 and 25 with additional support needs to opportunity to gain valuable experience and qualification in the hospitality sector.

Joy Gillespie, who took over the role of development manager six months ago, has helped steer the organisation through this latest phase in its development from an organisation which concentrated on developing training programmes to one in which it is seeking to play a more important role as a community hub for Motherwell.

Joy admits this is a crucial time in the cafe’s history, explaining: “The cafe has been going about eight years now and was originally in Leven Street, which was some way out of the town centre. In 2013 we moved to our current premises in Brandon Parade which is a much more central location in the community and we have built up a reputation for quality food and family friendly customer service over this time.

“The cafe provides a community hub for local groups and financially supports the charitable aims of Windmills Lanarkshire.”

This commitment to the development of the young workforce has been an important element of what the cafe does. Pupils with additional needs from Fir Park School are given SQA approved training with the aim of making them as independent as possible.

But according to Joy the great strength of the social enterprise charity is that it involves the youngsters in the decision making process as much as possible.

Joy said: “It blew me away when I first started working here. Young people are really involved in the running of the place. I took over managing the cafe six months ago and when I came for my first interview there were young people on the panel. I was so impressed with one young woman who confidently showed me around the place. She had been really badly bullied and when she had started volunteering at Windmills, couldn’t make eye contact. However when I met her her confidence was amazing. She made eye contact with me and came across very well. After that I decided this was an organisation I wanted to work for.”

It all started back in 2006, when a group of pupils from Firpark School formed a committee determined to show that young people with learning disabilities could have equal access to meaningful work experience opportunities.

Over the years Windmills has developed award-winning teaching resources allowing young people with learning disabilities, including low literacy groups, to achieve mainstream qualifications and ‘‘hands on’’ experience.

Joy continued: “We are dedicated to supporting these young people to build life and social skills, confidence, independence and, ultimately, employability. In addition to the opportunities we provide for work placements and traineeships, in 2016, we were pleased to launch our modern apprenticeship scheme which we look forward to developing further in 2017 and beyond.”

The Scottish Government’s Opportunities for All and Post 16 Transitions Data Practice Framework have made an explicit commitment to offer a place in learning or training to every 16-19 year old in Scotland. Windmills is aware that transitions are difficult for all young people but particularly for those with learning disabilities and is therefore delighted to be working with additional support need schools and units in North and South Lanarkshire to support young people in preparation for and during their post-school transition.

Project supervisor Jeanie Fraser, who has been with the organisation since it started in 2008, said: “I have seen a lot of changes and we were starting to struggle to attract customers but, since the renovation, we are now reaching out to a different clientele and are looking to become very much more of a community hub.

“The great thing about the renovation and the changes is that our volunteers have really embraced it and taken to it like a duck to water. Training is still very important to us but we now need to reach out into the wider community. This greater community involvement will help to further develop the soft skills that our volunteer need like confidence and great communication skills. Ideally we are trying to make our volunteers as independent as possible.”

For more information on Windmills go to www.windmillscafe.co.uk.