TEA is served at a new cafe at a Wearside beauty spot.
The Sunderland Home Care Associates (SHCA) has launched its cafe at Herrington Country Park as part of its social enterprise scheme.
The venue employs people with learning difficulties, offering them valuable work experience and skills.
Margaret Elliott, director of care services, said: “It’s a really exciting project which is proving a big success.”
The park, near Penshaw Monument, is a popular beauty spot, particularly among families and dog walkers.
The professional carer support group, in Mowbray Road, Sunderland, undertakes a variety of work, offering assistance with domestic and household tasks, cleaning and preparing meals.
Its innovative social enterprise scheme means that every one of its 400 members of staff receives shares in the company, as well as being responsible for electing its board of directors.
“For almost 18 years, we have worked in partnership with the city council, providing a personal care service to vulnerable people in their own homes,” said Ms Elliott.
“We also work with the university, providing academic support to disabled students, and with Sunderland colleges, providing mentors to students with learning disabilities.
“In addition, through our Independent Futures project, we provide support to adults with a learning disability who have been in long-stay hospitals and are now, with our support, living in their own homes.
“Part of the success of the project is the ‘micro enterprise’ element. This is where we start mini-businesses so that our service users get the chance to do some work in their own business.”
Ms Elliott said the organisation has gone from strength to strength since its launch in the 1990s.
“We also work in partnership with Gentoo and provide care and support in their new, state-of-the-art extra-care complex,” said Ms Elliott. “We truly believe that being employee-owned helps us keep our staff.
“Staff turnover is small. We give a high-quality service by well-trained people who believe in their company and what it does.”
Councillor Mel Speding, Cabinet Secretary for the City Council, said: “It is tremendous that Herrington Country Park now has not just a fantastic café, but one which also provides an invaluable opportunity for people with disabilities.
“Sunderland Home Care Associates and Sustainable Enterprise Strategies put together a superb business case to run the café which has in place a terrific level of support for service users.
“The café is not-for-profit which means all money made from the venture can be reinvested into the business to continue to provide such fantastic opportunities.
“This support and employment is a great way to help people with disabilities to live independently which fits in perfectly with the council’s aims for vulnerable adults.”
For more information about SHCA, visit www.sunderlandhomecare.co.uk or call 510 8366.