Employment

This vegan restaurant offers workers with learning disabilities a pathway to independence

Cafe Van Gogh’s bosses say employers who hire those with learning disabilities will gain loyal, hardworking and reliable staff

Ehima Nwoko at Cafe Van Gogh. Image: Cafe Van Gogh

Just a quarter of adults with a learning disability have a paid job, compared to 76% of adults in the general population, according to statistics collected in 2019 by Mencap. What’s being missed? It’s not just the cold, hard cash in your pocket, but the confidence and independence that secure employment brings. Cafe Van Gogh in Brixton, South London, is working to fix that.

Its trainees work in front of house, learning skills and teaming up with job coaches as they make diners feel at home in the 100% vegan restaurant. As hospitality businesses struggle for staff, Cafe Van Gogh’s bosses say employers who hire those with learning disabilities will gain loyal, hardworking, and reliable staff.

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Their work is supported by financing from Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of the Big Issue. We hear from trainees at Cafe Van Gogh about the difference it’s made, and the advice they have for others.

Image: Cafe Van Gogh

Jimmy Rule: ‘Grab those opportunities’ 

“I have been supported by Cafe Van Gogh by the consistent listening to what I want in the future.”

Cafe Van Gogh’s job coach put Jimmy (left) forward for a training role with the NHS, and he’s now bagged a job as a co-trainer for the NHS, training staff about learning disabilities. “I will be travelling around the UK and training at various locations. Who knew this would be me?”

Image: Cafe Van Gogh

Keon Graham-Hughes: ‘Ask, and keep asking. You can do it. Be focused!’

“I am not only chopping, cutting and slicing vegetables, but I am plating, following recipes and having a real understanding about food and how a great team can conquer anything”, says Keon (right), who is working towards his dream of becoming a chef. “It’s nice to have a feeling of belonging to something where you feel wanted and needed.”

Ehima Nwoko: ‘Being independent is a beautiful feeling’ 

“Cafe Van Gogh has given me so much, another family, a purpose, a reason to continue challenging myself and most of all independence. I feel so happy, I can help my mum out,” says trainee Ehima Nwoko (main image). “It’s a great feeling to be able to get up in the morning and feel like you are doing something with a purpose, as well as making people feel happy.”

Image: Cafe Van Gogh

Jamal White: ‘Push yourself, accept the challenges and keep smiling. You will get there’

“Mostly they have given me the confidence to know that I can do anything that I put my mind to,” says Jamal. Without Cafe Van Gogh, Jamal (left) says he would never have landed his first job working in the service industry. “I thank Cafe Van Gogh for seeing my capabilities and supporting me continuously.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us more. Big Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

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