Te Tuhi Café
Te Wharekai o Te Tuhi

Aotearoa’s first training café for people with intellectual disabilities

A non-profit social enterprise

The Te Tuhi Café partnership provides a complete service for our customers and for our trainees. Te Tuhi operates the café enterprise, Rescare Homes Trust recruits and supports our trainees, and the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland oversees the training programme, creating specific plans for each trainee. In 2024, for the first time, Manakau Institute of Technology will include five students from Rescare Home Trust, who are currently working in the Te Tuhi café, in MIT’s accredited Level 2 Certificate in Hospitality programme.

What are we doing?

The Te Tuhi Café is Aotearoa’s first training café for people with intellectual disabilities. It provides a café service to a bustling community centre, putting people with disabilities in the heart of their community.

The café project provides in-house training and supported paid employment for people with intellectual disabilities and is designed to provide the trainees with a supportive environment to expand their hospitality experience with an aim to finding open employment.

The café project is a non-profit social enterprise. The café began trading on 20 July 2020 with the goal of becoming fully self-sustaining within three years and expanding its scope for training and employment for people with intellectual disabilities.

The café is a partnership between Te Tuhi, Rescare Homes Trust and the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland.

In 2024, the training remit of the café is expanding to include Manukau Institute of Technology’s accredited Level 2 Certificate in Hospitality programme. This is part of a pilot programme at MIT to give greater access to students with disabilities. Five students from Rescare Homes Trust who are currently working at the café will receive in-house training from MIT onsite at Te Tuhi Café 

The course covers safe preparation and service of food in a café hospitality environment and has been designed to accredit Rescare café trainees with the qualifications required for wider employment opportunities in the hospitality industry.

This opportunity with MIT sits alongside the existing framework designed with the support of the School of Psychology, who ensure that training processes are evidence based and effective to support people with disabilities to upskill and start a career in the hospitality trade.

Why are we doing this?

The project is designed to provide a platform for equal opportunities in learning, training and employment for people with disabilities. It offers a community-based training programme, where people with intellectual disabilities can receive training, work experience and ongoing supported employment. It gives the people we support the opportunity to engage in meaningful, paid employment, making them feel included as valued members of our community. Following training, the trainees will be supported to find open employment.

The project empowers individual people with disabilities. It supports a vulnerable group, helps people to help themselves, and allows people to feel that they belong to and can take part in their community. It also benefits the wider community and promotes community wellbeing. This project provides an often invisible population, people with disabilities, to demonstrate their value to the community and the community to learn and grow as a result.

According to Statistics New Zealand, the unemployment rate for disabled people is more than twice the unemployment rate of non-disabled people. For people with intellectual disabilities the statistics are even poorer: they are more than four times as likely as non-disabled people to find themselves unemployed. Further, these statistics fail to show that many people with intellectual disabilities would love to have a job but are unemployed due to the barriers to getting into the workforce.

The Office for Disability Issues’ New Zealand Disability Strategy 2016–2026 states that disability is something that happens when people with impairments face barriers in society, and that is the reason why a non-disabling society is core to its vision. The strategy’s outcomes include that participation in community activities (for example sport, recreation, arts and culture) or just being present and belonging to our community is supported and valued. Similarly, the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), which New Zealand has ratified, holds that the opportunity to be employed in a job of one’s choice in an open, inclusive and accessible workplace is a basic right.

We believe that the café is a prime opportunity for people with disabilities to learn new skills in a supportive environment, but also for them to be able to show society the value they bring to the community and to organisations who employ them. We believe that the café will become an example of how New Zealand can work towards its disability strategy and uphold its obligations under the CRPD.

Who is involved?

Te Tuhi Café is a partnership between Te Tuhi, Rescare Homes Trust and the School of Psychology, providing a wraparound service and community support that ensures the long-term success of the project. MIT is supporting this work in 2024 with places on their Level 2 Certificate in Hospitality programme.

Te Tuhi provides the physical café space, located within a vibrant art gallery and community centre with foot traffic of up to 170,000 people per year. The building is fully accessible, and the café provides a great environment for people with disabilities to demonstrate their skills and the added value they bring to the workplace. Te Tuhi provides a welcoming community hub that is disability and child friendly, with a wide variety of community groups using the space.

Rescare Homes Trust supports approximately 130 adults with intellectual disabilities in supported residential or vocational services to live great lives and achieve their dreams. Many of the people Rescare support are wanting employment, but face barriers to finding it. They require an environment in which they are supported to achieve their potential, and from where they can build work skills.

The training programme has been designed with the support of the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland, ensuring that the training process is evidence based and effective to support people with disabilities to upskill and start a career in the hospitality trade.

Five trainees from the café will take part in Manukau Institute of Technology's Level 2 Certificate in Hospitality programme in 2024 for which they will receive accreditation.

Ākina is an impact development consultancy that supports the social enterprise sector in Aotearoa to thrive. Ākina’s role in the project is to understand, communicate and evidence the impact of the Te Tuhi training café. Together we developed an impact model that maps out what positive changes the café creates, how and for whom, and a plan for how to measure and communicate this impact. This will support the Te Tuhi Café partners to tell a compelling and evidence-based impact story to stakeholders, and to make decisions that increase the impact of the café.

Our community is a key partner in this enterprise. This includes both locals and destination visitors whether they are visitors to the gallery, school groups, people who attend groups and classes, or people who come specifically for the café. The community provides interaction with people with disabilities in a positive environment which helps remove stigma around them.

How does the training programme work?

Trainees are supported to work in the café in small groups of two to three, with high levels of support. They work with experienced hospitality staff who we have upskilled, with the help of the School of Psychology, to act as trainers. The trainees also have individualised support from support workers who are currently training to be psychologists through the University of Auckland. All of our trained staff help to meet the specific needs of each individual.

Each trainee has a personal plan, showing their goals and targets, which is used to track their progress and development. Through this training programme trainees are supported to develop skills that can gain them employment in hospitality and other industries, including food hygiene, the use of payment systems (e.g. EFTPOS), point-of-sale processes, handling money, customer service, as well as food preparation, table service and beverage making. They also gain soft skills such as problem solving, teamwork, organising and communication skills.

Working with Rescare and those it supports meant the training programme was created in conjunction with people with disabilities, as they are experts in what they need to succeed. The training process is person centred and flexible. It allows us to ascertain what additional resources are required for the trainees to be successful. This includes the production of visual resources, adaption of current equipment and purchasing of specialised equipment.

The collaboration with the School of Psychology ensures the quality of the training programme and the ability for us to effectively measure the outcome of the project. The project also benefits the School of Psychology students who are the support workers in the programme. Ako is a Māori concept where one is both the teacher and the learner. The opportunity for students to work alongside people with intellectual disabilities allows for students to experience true ako. They may teach the person with disabilities new skills, but they too will be taught by the person with disabilities how to effectively communicate, how to problem solve and be flexible, and how to identify and work to people’s strengths. The opportunity to work with people with intellectual disabilities is invaluable for these students as it will ensure they are better clinicians. As a result of the opportunity for ako, in the future they will be better equipped to support people with disabilities when they are in need of services.

As business increases it will be possible to extend the opportunities for the trainees and the number of trainees we can support.

What do the trainees get?

Although all trainees will have a minimum of 10 weeks of training, there is no finite period for training and employment. This is because each individual trainee will be supported to identify and achieve their personal goals through a training programme which is tailored to their requirements. However, as trainees become more competent, we will also work with them to provide additional work experience and employment opportunities outside of the training café.

The trainees not only have a place to develop workplace skills that will be useful to help them live a life of greater independence and purpose through employment, they also gain wider skills and relationships that will support them throughout their lives. Of importance is the confidence they gain, as well as the social aspect of meeting and interacting with a wide range of people.

In 2024, five students from Rescare Homes Trust who are currently working at the café will receive in-house training towards Manukau Institute of Technology’s accredited Level 2 Certificate in Hospitality. The course covers safe preparation and service of food in a café hospitality environment and has been designed to accredit Rescare café trainees with the qualifications required for wider employment opportunities in the hospitality industry.

Who else benefits?

This is Aotearoa’s first training café specifically designed for people with intellectual disabilities and it provides benefits not just for the individuals involved but for the organisations that support them, the café at Te Tuhi and for our wider communities.

For Te Tuhi, the café is an essential service for its many community groups and gallery visitors. As we begin the project Te Tuhi are investing in running the café at a financial loss to support the establishment of the training programme. It is anticipated that within three years this non-profit social enterprise will be fully self-supporting, adding significantly to the service that Te Tuhi already provides to the local community.

Rescare is excited to be able to provide this opportunity initially to those it supports and then those supported by the wider disability sector. The opportunity to be part of the café project allows Rescare to provide a unique opportunity to those they support. This opportunity will mean that people Rescare currently supports will have the opportunity to receive training and paid employment allowing them to take a full and active role in our community. For these people, the project provides a genuine stepping-stone to employment and independence, creating life-changing opportunities for each of them. At full capacity, the café will provide training and employment for up to 18 individuals at a time, who might stay with the programme for 10–20 weeks or longer-term, depending on the speed at which they meet their personal goals. We expect to work with at least 12 new individuals each year while maintaining longer-term development with at least six individuals. The growing capacity means that Rescare will have the opportunity to not only provide a unique learning opportunity for the people they support, but give back to the broader disability sector by providing the opportunity for other people with disabilities to have the same experience.

For the School of Psychology, the opportunity to work in collaboration with Te Tuhi and Rescare is twofold. The partnership allows them the opportunity to develop research projects that will have real impacts on people’s lives. It also allows their psychology students an invaluable opportunity to work alongside and learn from people with disabilities. Having a place that is supportive of the experience of these students is invaluable to their growth as clinicians. It is also hoped that having students working alongside people with disabilities while training will lead to a greater understanding among qualified clinicians of how best to support people with disabilities.

Manukau Institute of Technology are working with Te Tuhi Cafe as a pilot to increase accessibility of their accredited courses. 

The benefits to the local community are profound. The project promotes an inclusive society, where people with disabilities can gain meaningful, paid employment. Often people in the community are unsure how to interact with people with a disability. Children are taught not to stare. Adults awkwardly avoid eye contact and conversations, often seeing the people with disabilities as ‘in need’ and ‘dependent’. Having a group of people with disabilities taking control of their lives and being productive, contributing members of society in an open, community-integrated location means that there is an opportunity for the community to have a different interaction with people with intellectual disabilities that may change their perception. The School of Psychology aims to measure the impact that the café has on this perception of people with disabilities.

How was the project established?

There are many examples of cafés offering work experience and training to people with intellectual disabilities internationally, and their success is well documented. In particular, across the United Kingdom such cafés are common, and can be found at local colleges, libraries, art galleries, craft centres, parks, hospitals and town centres. They offer tea, coffee and a variety of snacks, cakes and meals. The majority also have accessible facilities. These projects have shown to improve the quality of life for the people involved and the social connectedness of people with disabilities to their local community.

Rescare Homes Trust, Te Tuhi and the School of Psychology began a pilot for the project during Alert Level 2 of Aotearoa’s Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, while Te Tuhi was still closed to the public. Working alongside the trainers with experience in hospitality and those with experience working with people with disabilities, we were able to work out how best to use the space and to devise the training programme alongside our first trainees, shaping the structure of the programme through hands-on ‘action learning’. One of the main reasons for getting this project up and running quickly was that a number of the people Rescare supports had lost their jobs due to Covid-19. Of the four trainees in our pilot cohort, three had lost their job.

The statistics are clear: people with intellectual disabilities are highly likely to be unemployed, meaning that there are substantial numbers of people with intellectual disabilities in the community that do not have the opportunity to engage in work. As the café grows and becomes successful we will be able to provide more opportunities to more individuals and showcase the benefits of inclusive employment to other businesses in the community, opening the doors for more employment opportunities in the future.

How do we measure success?

For the trainees involved we can measure the success at an individual level. Each trainee has a personal training plan designed by the School of Psychology, with their goals and targets, which is used to track their progress and development. We regularly review progress to ensure that our trainees are working towards their goals and enjoying the process. We also track how long they need to stay in the training café before they will be ready to pursue open employment opportunities.

The success and benefits of the entire programme to the trainees, organisations and wider community will be continuously evaluated by the School of Psychology. The learnings from this research will shape the future of the programme, allowing this project to be flexible and responsive to the needs of all stakeholders. Along with monitoring the specific effectiveness of the training programme, the School of Psychology will monitor the impact of the process on the emotional and mental wellbeing of the trainees, the impact of the project on perceptions of disability in the community, and the benefits obtained from the organisations that are involved in the project.

We have worked with Ākina to develop an impact model that maps out what positive change the café creates, how and for whom. This gives us a framework for measuring and communicating the impact.

The most obvious indicator of success is the sustainability of the training café itself. Currently the café and the support required from the trainers means that the café project costs both Te Tuhi and Rescare. However, based on our current projections, we believe that after a period of growth and investment the café will become a successful, fully self-supporting not-for-profit social enterprise.

We hope that the success of the café will inspire other organisations who may want to replicate this model and process.

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