Sunderland Minster cafe set to re-open thanks to North East Autism Society partnership following Covid-19 closure

A cafe situated in a historic building is to be brought back to life thanks to a partnership the North East Autism Society (NEAS).

By Hayley Lovely
Friday, 17th June 2022, 4:55 am

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The Sunderland Minster cafe closed during the Covid-19 pandemic but is being reopened thanks to help from students of Thornhill Park School, an independent specialist school run by NEAS, will be working at the cafe when it reopens to the public from Thursday, June 23.

The cafe will re-open under a new name chosen by the pupils, ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’, to celebrate Sunderland’s links with Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Carroll is believed to have drawn inspiration for some of his characters while visiting his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, who lived in Southwick.

Nadine Horton, who has been principal at the Thornhill Park School since September and has a wealth of experience in specialist education, said: “It’s a really exciting project for many of our older pupils who’ve missed out on work experience due to Covid.”

Sunderland Minster

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The students have worked together to create menus for the cafe and will help prepare food, serve customer and handle payments.

The initiative has been driven by Teaching Assistant, Andy Marsh, while school cook, Catherine Campbell, has provided expert guidance on food health and safety and students will work towards a food hygiene qualification.

It all started when Nadine, who had family connections with the Minster, got in touch asking about the possibility of the cafe area being hired.

Nadine added: “It’s a win-win situation because the cafe will be brought back to life as part of the community, and our pupils will get real-life employment opportunities and work experience.

“As part of their individual learning programmes, some pupils will attend the cafe on a weekly basis.

"For some, it will support longer-term goals to pursue careers in catering, but for everyone involved, it will help develop interpersonal skills.

"I’m so passionate about specialist education and the key is to make learning real. This project does exactly that.”

The cafe will be run as a not-for-profit venture, initially between 10am and 2pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays during term times.

However, Nadine hopes to involve NEAS adult services in future, enabling the cafe to open on additional days.