They can experience being involved in running a small café, for example: customer service; dealing with money; order taking; stock rotation; menu planning; design skills; food preparation; food hygiene; health and safety. We give participants the opportunity to experience all aspects of the operation, and to focus on specific areas that they want to specialise in. The project is learner led, meaning we encourage individuals to input their thoughts and ideas as much as possible, allowing them freedom to influence the project’s development. We support as much as needed and step back where we can, so the young people feel empowered and valued. We are lucky in that we have a loyal, patient and understanding customer base, who also support the participants to carry out their roles.
It’s been a challenging year for the Soft Touch café – we started the academic year in September 2020 being able to open the café as take away only, but as Leicester experienced extended lockdowns this was very short lived. We carried on with Creative Studio sessions and adapted our offer to the young people. They came in and cooked food to enjoy together and to give away to vulnerable people in the area, which provided a much needed mental health boost for the participants and the beneficiaries, as well as raising awareness with local business and residents, who often came up to ask what we were doing and to donate to the project. This was great socially distant interaction for everyone who was struggling with isolation and loneliness. Lots of older people out for daily walks would stop for a quick chat. Each session we would incorporate a walk to the local open air market to source fresh ingredients and support local small business. This helped to improve the social and independent living skills of the participants as well boosting mental health by getting out and walking together.
The young people on the project have continued to work on working towards planned objectives around customer service skills; safe knife skills; food hygiene; nutrition; health and safety; team work; and skills for work.
In April 2021 we started to welcome customers into our garden, starting up slowly, before we could allow people inside the venue in May 2021. The group loved having people in again, and it was wonderful to see them rise to the challenge of the busy lunchtimes. After an initial apprehension about being around the public again, there was soon a competition to see who could be out serving customers rather than staying in the kitchen. The participants have grown so much in maturity, confidence, as well as emotionally, throughout the year despite the obvious challenges and some are choosing to go into catering when they leave school this year. They say they feel that the Soft Touch experience has really helped them focus on what they want to achieve in the future.