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Sunderland Minster cafe which closed during pandemic reopens as ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’, thanks to help from autistic students

A Sunderland cafe which closed due to the pandemic is being brought back to life thanks to a new initiative aimed at giving autistic people employment opportunities and work experience.

Friday, 24th June 2022, 4:55 am

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The Sunderland Minster cafe closed during the pandemic but is now being reopened after a partnership with the North East Autism Society (NEAS) means students from Thornhill Park School will take the reins in working at the cafe.

Thornhill Park School is an independent specialist school run by NEAS and the cafe reopened to the public today, June 23.

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Students from Thornhill Park School and staff at Sunderland Minster new cafe called Down the Rabbit Hole in partnership with North East Autism Society.

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Nadine Horton, Principle at Thornhill Park School, said: “It’s a really exciting project for many of our older pupils who’ve missed out on work experience due to Covid. We were looking to rebuild our work placement partnerships after the pandemic, and the café at the Minster seemed a good opportunity because it had been closed for a while, and NEAS also has a shop just round the corner”

“I got an immediate response, asking me to pop in for a chat and, to my delight, they said ‘OK, let’s do it!’ It’s a win-win situation because the café 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 café 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 first order of business for the new cafe was to choose a new name, with students deciding on ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’ – to celebrate Sunderland’s links with Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The Sunderland Minster new cafe called Down the Rabbit Hole in partnership with North East Autism Society. CEO NEAS John Phillipson and Chris Dempster the Director of Education with students from Thornhill Park School and staff.

The author is believed to have drawn inspiration for some of his characters while visiting his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, who lived in the Southwick area of the city.

Students have also had a hand in creating the cafe’s menu, which includes scones, soup, sandwiches, cakes, teas, coffees and soft drinks and will also be involved in preparing meals, customer service, and dealing with money.

The Sunderland Minster new cafe called Down the Rabbit Hole in partnership with North East Autism Society. CEO NEAS John Phillipson and Chris Dempster the Director of Education with students from Thornhill Park School.
The Sunderland Minster new cafe called Down the Rabbit Hole in partnership with North East Autism Society.