Pub hopes to pave way for youngsters with learning difficulties

editorial image

As Kern Massey chops vegetables in a pub kitchen, he looks like any other confident young man.

The 23-year-old has Asperger’s syndrome, which statistically means he is more likely to be unemployed – only about 6 per cent of people with similar conditions are in paid work in the UK.

But a Rainworth pub is helping change that.

The Archer, Warsop Lane, is home to a pioneering scheme which helps young people with learning difficulties into paid work.

Landmarks Specialist College, which offers courses tailored to youngsters with disabilities, has been running a new hospitality and catering skills programme at the venue.

Kern is learning how to cook and prepare meals with The Archer’s chef David Robinson, as well as all the basics of how a kitchen is set up and essentials of food hygiene.

He says: “I’ve never done anything like this before.

“I did go to another college, but I wasn’t taught anything like this – it was mostly theory there. I love making the desserts.”

Six weeks into the year-long course, his proudest achievement has been a particularly delicious batch of shortbread.

Darren Mitchell, who took over as the pub’s general manager just six weeks ago, has taken on the task of giving the students the skills they need to go into paid work,
once their courses have finished.

The 36-year-old, of Rainworth, says: “We are the first in the whole country to do this. There’s been similar projects, but not in pubs.

“We are training and supporting young people to achieve skills which will get them work in mainstream pub groups.

“We’ll teach them every aspect from pulling a pint to preparing food and cooking.”

The pub now has five students working alongside staff during the week, while other groups help tidy the car park and flower beds on a regular basis.

According to the Health and Social Care information centre, the percentage of people with learning disabilities in paid employment has decreased over the past five years in England, from 7.1 per cent to 6 per cent.

Darren, who has a wealth of experience, having managed pubs in Nottinghamshire for almost 10 years, says: “It’s amazing to take part. There’s only about 7 per cent youth employment for those that have learning disabilities and hopefully this will help – it will be brilliant to see.”

Courses vary from one to two years in length, depending on the student, and are available for those aged 16 and older.

As well as experiencing the environment of a working pub, students learn everything from social skills to how to take public transport to the pub.

Karen Stewart, course co-ordinator says: “Just getting here can be difficult. Just getting on a bus can be tough or scary for someone who hasn’t done it before, so we will take them through that process.”

“Then they’ll be able to do it independently and be able to go to job interviews by themselves and then off to work.

“It’s all about building confidence.”

The pub will also be focusing on sustainability.

An allotment is being built and fresh fruit and vegetables will make their way on to a seasonal menu, while meat will be sourced from local butchers.

Karen says: “Everything eaten at the pub will be grown here – vegetables, fruit, potatoes. It will all be fresh.

“And we get a lot of supplies from the college’s farm in Creswell too.”

They are also calling for help from the public as the training scheme grows.

Darren says: “We would love to hear from organisations and volunteers who would like to support us – in particular with the development of our allotment here at The Archer.

“We require support and resources to make this space fully inclusive, so learners in wheelchairs can access the beds and polytunnels with ease – any and all help would be most appreciated.”

The team also has plans to cook soup and stews for homelessness kitchens, to enable students to become involved in the community – and they are currently perfecting their own recipes.

Darren is hoping he can make a difference.

He plans to help the students create CVs and find job interviews when they finish their courses and wants people to do more.

He says: “For me, I want this to become a hub in the local area and I’m hoping for more places to open up. If any one of these students had come to me when I worked in other mainstream group pubs I would have tried to employ them.

“They work hard but are often overlooked.

“It’s got to be a business and working pub, but we are fighting for equal opportunities and breaking down barriers.

“It can be life-changing for these young people.”