Meg’s tasty plan for success

14 August 2019 | Scotland

The Usual Place

How a cafe is helping young people with additional needs to thrive.

When Heather Hall opened a new community cafe, she had a clear vision of how it could help young people with learning difficulties or additional needs.

She says: “I thought we could do something different. I was determined to create change and open opportunities. I wanted a complete change from some of the more institutional facilities where some of these young people faced going. They should be interacting with their local communities, not shut away.”

The Usual Place is a not-for-profit cafe, meetings and events space. It provides employability and citizenship opportunities for young people aged from 16 to 26. Young people who choose to become trainees work alongside a dedicated team of staff mentors and volunteers and gain vocational skills.

Heather adds: “It might take our young people a little longer to gain their qualifications, but that doesn’t matter."

Meg Ayres is one of the young people who has thrived at The Usual Place. She’s only 21, but she has already achieved so much that everyone who meets her recognises that she is something special. “Meg is definitely a trailblazer,” says Heather, who mentors her.

The eloquent youngster already has qualifications in professional cookery and hospitality in her back pocket. She gives talks to schools, and now she has grand plans including a cafe that she is going to call ‘Meg-alicious.”

Meg has Down syndrome but has never let the condition hold her back.

That she has come as far as she has, is in no small part due to the determined care and support she receives from Heather and her team.

Meg says: “I think it is important that people with learning difficulties are respected and the chance to contribute to the community. It makes me feel proud to know what I have achieved already and where I am going. I am determined and want to be independent but I have to thank my mentors here like Heather who have helped me achieve everything I have.”

As well as gaining qualifications, young people at the Usual Place serve the public in the cafe, cook, handle money, and cater for outside events. Heather is the development manager and chief executive, but everyone at the centre is seen as an equal and wears the same black uniform so they are indistinguishable. Over the last three years, 30 young people have graduated from the project.

Meg is definitely one of their success stories, and after a few years at the centre is nearly ready to spread her wings. Not only has she had personal success, but she now trains other youngsters at the Usual Place. Plus she gives talks to schools and headteachers explaining why young people like her are capable of so much more than they are given credit for. And why they should be given employment opportunities just like any other young person.

Heather says: “Youngsters like Meg just want people to believe in them. They want what every young person has, that’s to live full lives, have that chance to be part of the community, a job, purpose and a future. They just want what is entitled to them and they should be treated with dignity and respect. That informs everything we do here. We believe anything is possible with the right support.

“Meg is a trailblazer between ourselves and Dumfries and Galloway College. Together they have been making sure all the resources and effective and appropriate for learning for the young people we support.

“For our young people, being treated as an adult is what they crave, and when their families come along and see what they are achieving they are astounded. But all we are doing is giving them the skills to go out in life and have the life they deserve.”

Meg adds: “I can’t wait to open my new cafe. I know it is going to take time, and there is still so much to plan. But I am working on it with a business partner.

“The Usual Place has been amazing. They have helped me massively. I feel emotional just saying that, but it is true. I now want to help others see what they can achieve and hopefully they see me as an inspiration.”

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