New cafes give disabled taste for the workplace

Paul Adair, chef John Lyttle, Usel CEO Bill Atkinson, Robert McIlroy and Bronagh Donnelly at the opening of the Ability at the Drawbridge Cafe at the Ecos Centre in Ballymena
Paul Adair, chef John Lyttle, Usel CEO Bill Atkinson, Robert McIlroy and Bronagh Donnelly at the opening of the Ability at the Drawbridge Cafe at the Ecos Centre in Ballymena
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A social enterprise that specialises in finding employment for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions has opened two new cafes in Belfast and Ballymena.

In the process, Ulster Supported Employment Ltd (Usel), has created 20 new jobs and training opportunities.

Last month it launched the Ability Cafe at the new Acute Mental Health Inpatient Centre in Belfast City Hospital and this month opened the Ability at the Drawbridge Cafe at the Ecos Centre in Ballymena.

Usel CEO Bill Atkinson said: “It is very exciting to be working in partnership with the Belfast Health Trust at the Belfast City Hospital site.

“This is our second cafe in partnership with the trust and we are delighted to see this relationship strengthen and grow.

“As well as running the cafe it will be a safe training environment for people who have faced mental health issues and are ready to return to work through supported employment.”

The cafe at the Ecos Centre in Ballymena will provide employment for people with a range of disabilities.

Usel will be working alongside Mid and East Antrim Council and Catalyst Inc which has taken over the running of the building and which has undergone a £1.6m renovation and refurbishment.

Mr Atkinson added: “This cafe was closed for a number of years, so it is great to be part of the rejuvenation of the site alongside the work of Catalyst Inc.

“We look forward to providing employment for people within the local community, particularly those with a disability or health condition.

“We aim to provide first-class bistro style services for people using the nature park from families with young children to dog walkers.

“We will have something for everyone.”

John Lyttle, chef at the Ecos Centre cafe, has 30 years experience in the catering industry. Of his workforce he commented: “There’s one young lad Josh. He has spina bifida and is in a wheelchair.

“He’s just out of school. The progress he has made in a week and a half is unreal.

“That’s what it’s about – giving these young people the skills and confidence they need in a working environment.”

Usel works in partnership with 150 organisations to provide support to get people back into employment, operating a range of training programmes that assists people with disabilities to gain the qualifications and skills required for sustainable employment.

Last year the company successfully found sustainable employment for more than 900 people.

As new jobs and training opportunities were created for 20 young people in Belfast and Ballymena, it was revealed that there were 20,000 young people aged 16-24 years in Northern Ireland who were not in education, employment or training (NEET) from April to June this year.

This was equivalent to one in 10 of all people aged 16-24 years in the Province.