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The Southport cafe that is a great little place to go to

PUBLISHED: 09:55 31 May 2012 | UPDATED: 20:52 21 October 2015

Autism Initiatives head of fundraising and media Susan Murphy with cafe manager Sue Yarnell

Autism Initiatives head of fundraising and media Susan Murphy with cafe manager Sue Yarnell

A Southport café has beaten the odds to become a firm favourite in the town, as Paul Mackenzie reports Photography by John Cocks

Lancashire Life June 2012 Lancashire Life June 2012

There is no shortage of places to eat in Southport so to establish a new café as a favourite in the town in just a few months is quite an achievement. To win an award makes it even more impressive and to do all of that and make a positive difference to people’s lives is a remarkable feat. But that’s what the team behind A Great Little Place have done.

The café opened 18 months ago and was last year named the winner of the Best Coffee shop category at the Southport Food and Drink festival. They have also been named, by an online review site, in the top five fine food establishments in the town. ‘We don’t do fine food, but I’m not complaining,’ said café manager Sue Yarnell.

The café is run as a social enterprise by Autism Initiatives, a charity launched in Liverpool 40 years ago. It now has an art gallery in Edinburgh and a chocolate factory in Belfast but the bulk of the charity’s projects are still here in Lancashire. Photography, jewellery and pottery by the charity’s service users are on display in the cafe and ingredients used in the meals on offer are grown just a few miles away on a plot at the charity’s school.
Sue Murphy, the head of fundraising for Autism Initiatives, said: ‘The idea was not to be a charity coffee shop, but to be the best coffee shop we could be.

‘As a charity we concentrate on what our service users can do, not what they can’t and we give every one of them individual attention. When they do work experience in the café, their role is specifically targeted at them and their particular skills. And there are so many spin-off benefits.

A Great Little Place To Go A Great Little Place To Go

‘There are so many things people can learn from being here, their work can anything from shopping to cleaning, catering or cashing up – just being in the café environment can be a challenge for some people and can help them to become more sociable.

‘I am thrilled to have the people we have working with us but we can’t provide employment for everyone. The idea is that we can help some people into employment and prepare them for that. My worry is not that our people aren’t good enough for other employers, but that other employers are not good enough for our people. There needs to be a real drive to educate employers about autism.’

And Sue Yarnell added: ‘I can’t think of a case where working here has not been of benefit to one of our service users. We have seen real developments with them all.

‘This is my dream job. To be able to manage and to cook, which I love, and to work with people with autism and see how they develop, it’s just ideal for me.

The photographs on the walls of A Great Little Place To Go were donated by Lancashire Life picture editor John Cocks. They were printed onto canvases by students at Peter House School in Southport, which is run by Autism Initiatives. The photographs on the walls of A Great Little Place To Go were donated by Lancashire Life picture editor John Cocks. They were printed onto canvases by students at Peter House School in Southport, which is run by Autism Initiatives.

‘We were looking for larger premises on Lord Street but this came available and it is perfect for our needs. It is a community place and we have a become a part of the community, with a hugely loyal customer base. I doubt there’s one member of staff who views working here as just a job. The added value of helping these people, and to see them succeed, is marvellous.’

One of the people who has benefited from work experience in the café is Shane Karcioglu. The 21-year-old from Freshfield had a support worker with him when he started at the café earlier this year but he said: ‘I’m coming in on my own now and I love working here.

‘I’ve learned a lot and I have had a lot of experiences I would not have been able to have otherwise. I used to be dead lazy, but I really enjoy working now – the people who work here are great and the customers are all really friendly.’

And the café on Hoghton Street has been such a success that a sandwich bar is due to open around the corner, opposite the railway station, in late May. A Great Little Place To Go, will sell ready made sandwiches, cakes and pastries as well as ice creams and the office space upstairs will be available for hire.

The print version of this article appeared in the June 2012  issue of Lancashire Life 
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