Parents set up new cafe for people with down’s syndrome to work

Cafe that offers paid employment to people with Down’s syndrome so they can work and learn social skills is praised as a ‘fabulous idea’ by This Morning viewers

  • Café 21  in Leeds set up to offer those with learning disabilities paid employment 
  • Brainchild of two parents who set up the charity Sunshine and Smiles 
  • Cafe was trialed for a week as a pop up before becoming permanent fixture
  • One barista said he loves the social element of the job and has lots of friends 

A cafe set up to offer people with Down’s syndrome and other learning disabilities the opportunity to be in paid employment and learn social skills has been hailed as ‘wonderful’. 

Cafe 21 in Leeds employs young people with Down’s syndrome to rustle up hot drinks for customers under supervision, in a bid to raise awareness and encourage more companies to hire and pay those with learning disabilities. 

Speaking in the segment on today’s ITV show, barista Francis Henry said he loves his job because of the social element. 

‘I like working here because I’ve got lots of friends. We make coffees, cappuccinos and hot chocolate as well,’ he said. 

This Morning viewers were impressed by the idea and took to social media to share their views, with one tweeting: ‘Wonderful idea. My son has special needs and I feel somewhere like this would hugely benefit him.’

Cafe 21  was set up by charity Sunshine and Smiles to help give those with down’s syndrome the opportunity to be in paid employment. Francis Henry (left) loves being able to make friends with his job as a barista

This Morning viewers have gushed over the initiative on social media, with one hailing the idea as a ‘fabulous concept’ 

Another took to Twitter to share what a ‘wonderful’ idea Cafe 21 was in helping those with disabilities to gain confidence, make friends and learn other life skills

Another wrote: ‘#sunshineandsmiles @ITV #ThisMorning melting my heart. Those salted caramel brownies though #equalityanddiversity.’

It was set up by mothers Ailith Harley-Roberts and Lorna Gilbert as an initiative of their charity Sunshine and Smiles, and became a permanent fixture after a one week trial as a pop-up. 

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The cafe not only pays the workers, but also helps them to learn valuable life skills as they socialise with customers and other staff. 

Currently only 17 per cent of people with learning disabilities are in paid employment. 

The Leeds cafe has eight people with learning difficulties working there, supervised by seven members of the charity Sunshine and Smiles set up by parents Lorna and Ailith

Ailith Harley-Roberts set up the organisation Sunshine and Smiles, which opened the cafe as a pop up in January

Fellow Sunshine and Smiles volunteer Lorna wants the initiative to offer experience of the working world, but she also hopes the cafe doesn’t stand out a ‘something different’

Sessional worker, Lorna Gilbert, says she hopes that in the future, similar initiatives will become the norm. 

She said: ‘We wanted to offer work experience. We don’t want to be different.

‘Young people are getting paid for working here. We want to raise awareness for this not to be something out of the ordinary.’

Viewers were very impressed by the idea with one calling it a ‘such a fabulous concept’.

Another tweeted: ‘The cafe changing lives on This Morning its a great place helping these young people gain more confidence, to flourish and make new friends. Just wonderful. Great to see something positive on the TV.’

Jenn Evans assists at the Leeds cafe, and joins Lorna and Ailith in supervising their staff, especially as they handle hot drinks and machinery

Lorna can be seen working with Francis in the restaurant, which is often frequented by visitors who love to visit the cafe because of the smiles on the baristas’ faces

Roisin loves to serve customers their food and drinks at Cafe 21, which offers paid employment to people with Down’s syndrome 




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