Students with special educational needs graduate from pioneering Sunderland hospitality course

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A pioneering hospitality course which puts young people with learning difficulties on the pathway to a career has celebrated its latest success story.

The latest intake on the Stars on Earth project have completed their ten-week training course in the service industry, which is held at Sunderland’s Funky Indian restaurant in the city centre.

The pupils from Portland Academy, in Chapelgarth, showed off their new skills at a special lunch for family, teachers and city dignitaries, where they greeted and served the guests for lunch service.

Kam Chera, Stars on Earth project manager, said: “We’ve been running the social enterprise for three years now with various schools and I’m always impressed by the attitude and professionalism of the students. Not only does it raise the aspirations of the individuals, it also shows people that people with learning difficulties can be fit for work and an asset to a business.”

One of the pupils, Ryan Young, 17, showed so much potential on the course that he’s been given an apprenticeship at the restaurant.

He said: “It feels amazing to have got an apprenticeship. I felt really happy serving people the lunch and I’m excited to learn more things.”

Kam said: “Ryan has a great charisma and charm and he excelled in the execution of the tasks he was given. He’s an ideal role model to showcase the programme and I’m sure our customers will love him.”

Diane Scott, a higher level teaching assistant from Portland Academy who co-ordinates works experience placements, said: “It’s been wonderful to be served by the students today, their confidence has grown enormously over the course of the ten weeks and it’s amazing to see.

“One of the students describes his speech as ‘bumpy’ but he chose to greet the guests at the door, which is huge for him, and he did a great job.”

She added: “It can be a real struggle to get work experience placements for young people with special educational needs, but some are more than capable of working, whether that be in a setting like this, or on reception or in another area.”

Thanks to funding from the Community Foundation, the social enterprise has set up a training facility in the ground floor of Funky Indian and will be running SEN Tuesdays where past and present students on the course can hone their skills serving customers.

The next intake of students will begin in September.