Shropshire Star

Community cafe supporting people with learning difficulties celebrates second birthday

Newport's community cafe is celebrating its second birthday having been launched by residents wanting to offer work experience for young people with disabilities.

Volunteers at Newport Hub Community Cafe

Opened in February 2020 by Val Edgley and Liz Bickford-Smith, The Hub Community Cafe in Newport is staffed entirely by volunteers and gives work experience and training to young people with learning disabilities and additional needs – enabling them to be an active part of the local community.

The café also offers various community activities such as toddlers' story time, a wellbeing cafe and a knit & natter group, with the goal of reducing loneliness and social isolation.

Joint café manager Val said: “The young people really enjoy working in the café and we love to see them learning new skills and growing in confidence.

"Liz and I both have sons with a learning disability, and we were frustrated that there were no opportunities in Newport for local young people with disabilities to get work experience and mix with people in the community.

"So often people with disabilities spend a lot of time doing “activities” with other people with disabilities. We wanted them to be able to do something fulfilling and useful and meet all sorts of different people, right here in Newport.”

Liz added: "It took us three years of research and planning to set up the community café. We looked at examples in Shropshire and travelled around the country to see how other community cafes worked and get ideas on best practice.

Val Edgley and Liz Bickford-Smith Newport Hub Community Cafe

"We thought 'why re-invent the wheel?' There were already lots of cafes out there doing what we wanted to do.”

The final hurdle to opening was finding a suitable venue in Newport. Luckily, Newport Town Council was in the process of taking over as trustee of The Newport Youth Café Project – the charity which owns the Hub building in the town. The primary focus of the charity is youth and the Hub hosts the Newport Youth Club on Monday nights and the Dance Connection dance school on Saturdays.

Liz explained: “As the Hub was not being used during weekdays it offered a great venue for the community café and a chance to give opportunities to young people with disabilities, so it ticks a lot of boxes for the charity."

After lots of opening and closing during Covid, the café is building up momentum and has a lot of regular customers. It offers a simple menu with drinks, cakes and affordable lunch options.

Val said: “We have a lot of people who come in by themselves and we always try to have a chat with everyone. We also have a chatter and natter table, where customers can sit if they are happy to talk to other customers. The aim is to kickstart conversations, get people chatting and reduce loneliness along the way."

She added: “The Hub Community Café is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 10am to 3pm and you can find us at 139 High Street, next to the old Victoria Hotel.

"We are celebrating our second anniversary with a £2 special offer on our coffees and cakes and giving our customers chocolate hearts, so please come along and wish us happy birthday."