Photo: Grace Williams with 3 Cafe and Kitchen employees Farrel McNeilage and Roberta Laa. Photographer Kahila Sinclair

As part of its recent celebration of World Down Syndrome Day, student reporter Grace Williams from the Bath Studio School visited the 3 Cafe and Kitchen in Bath to talk one of the students about how working at the cafe makes a difference to him

There’s plenty to help the 3 Cafe and Kitchen stand out as a very special place indeed. The welcome is warm, the cakes are gorgeous, the food beautifully prepared and expertly served, and it’s a cafe specially designed and run to give young people with Down Syndrome and special needs from the adjacent Three Ways School a place to train and work.

As the team there are keen to point out, the main purpose of the 3 Cafe and Kitchen is to provide a platform for all people with Down Syndrome and special needs to contribute to the communities workforce. “1 in 50 people in the UK have a learning disability, and it is essential that everyone is included on a full and equal basis in all aspects of society, in order to live a valued life,” explained the cafe’s Jobs Coach, Miguel Llamas. “Given their friendly manner, and open and honest outlook on life, students with Down Syndrome are the perfect candidate for working in cafes and restaurants, all they need are the opportunities to prove it. The problem is that prejudices, worries and a lack of support restricts many of these people being given the chance to make that meaningful contribution in the work places.”

The light, modern and stylish cafe is airy and spacious, with a cheery buzz of conversation that forms a welcoming backdrop as I sit down with student and employee, 17 year old Farrel McNeilage, to discuss how the cafe has made a difference to his life.

“I clean up, wash up, serve people and give people their food,” explains Farrel, complete with a huge smile and a clear pride in his work. For Farrel the cafe is part of process of learning of what he describes as “independent living, like catching a bus on my own,” all part of helping him and those around to understand what he can offer to life outside of his school.

The 3 Cafe and Kitchen opened in 2017 and quickly proved itself to be a real success in allowing young people with learning disabilities an equal opportunity in a working environment, something it achieves through giving the students responsibility and teaching them what they can, rather than what they can’t do.

“3 Cafe and Kitchen aims to showcase to the community what can be achieved, how those with a disability can be integrated into a work place,” added Lucy Beattie from Three Ways School. “The cafe is an innovative example of best practice, how young people are capable of working and how the community is embracing this.”

And the results are clear to see. While the cafe is already building both a loyal customer base and a reputation for excellent food and service, the students are also being given opportunities to work outside of the school grounds. For example, Bath-based law company Thrings recently asked the students to cook and serve at one of its Thrings PM networking events, with the result that a couple of the business attendees, including Jonathan Walker at no15 Great Pulteney, were able to support Threeways by offering opportunities for work placements.

With additions planned for the cafe, including building contractors JJ Rhatigan & Company set to build a barbecue and pizza oven, free of charge in the beautiful courtyard garden area, the future certainly looks bright for the team behind its success. Overall, it’s an awareness of equality that is at the heart of the 3 Cafe and Kitchen, a hugely positive initiative that continues to deliver opportunities to student such as Farrel.

To find out more about the 3 Cafe and Kitchen, click here