How this Headingley cafe is helping young people with Down’s syndrome in Leeds get work experience

Smiles: Katherine O'Donnell, 21 who has Down's syndrome serving a customer at 21 Co Cafe in Headingley, Leeds.
Smiles: Katherine O'Donnell, 21 who has Down's syndrome serving a customer at 21 Co Cafe in Headingley, Leeds.
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These heartwarming photographs show an inspiring young adult working at a cafe launched to help people with Down’s syndrome get work experience.

Cafe 21, operated by charity Sunshine and Smiles, gives seven young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 the chance to work in the kitchen and front-of-house in Headingley.

Staff at the Otley Road cafe are paid the national Living Wage, and the cafe serves homemade cakes and food, hot and cold drinks and gifts.

Ailith Harley-Roberts, 47, helped to launch the cafe on January 12, following a “very successful” trial week in March last year.

“The young people here have thrived,” she said.

“When we had the trial, it was just for a week and it felt like such a shame to have to close the doors.

“Since then, the charity have sought funding to re-open and I think it is brilliant we have now been able to launch.”

The cafe, which is open from Thursday to Sunday, is a permanent fixture in Leeds for at least the next six months.

Ms Harley-Roberts said she hopes the cafe will remain a success.

She added: “Even after being open for a week, we have provided health and safety training to our staff which they will be able to put on the CV.

“I have spoke to one parent who said their son has been setting his alarm each morning and can’t wait to come into work. That is what it is all about.

“The support we have had is phenomenal.”

The staff are able to take on a number of different roles around the cafe, depending on their preference.

One of the workers, Kathryn O’Donnell, 21, helps to take orders, clear tables and prepare food.

Ailith said she expects the young adults to “thrive” through the work as part of a team of 14 staff and learn transferable skills for their future careers.

The project has been funded with help from The Seedbed Trust and The Wesleyan Foundation.