At first glance, The Cookie Bar is a friendly local café selling good food, hot drinks and delicious snacks creating an inviting place to chat over lunch or a coffee. But that’s not all it can offer – as a social enterprise 100% of their profits are reinvested back into charitable projects with 50% going to Stepping Stones School and the remaining 50% going towards other COINS Foundation projects around the world. The double appeal from both a social and responsible perspective is what makes The Cookie Bar stand out from other popular coffee outlets as customers know they’re truly making a difference with their purchases.

Furthermore, the benefits go beyond the financial contribution where The Cookie Bar works in conjunction with Stepping Stones School to offer students with mild to moderate disabilities the opportunity to gain valuable work experience. Disability employment has been a hot topic in recent months and it appears to be a struggle that hasn’t yet been overcome. A recent article in the Guardian claimed that only 5/10 people with disabilities are employed compared to the 8/10 statistic for those without a disability. The demand for jobs is there, but various obstacles (perceived or otherwise) often get in the way, whether that’s lacking the confidence to apply initially or struggling in the selection process itself.

Federica, one of the students, shows off her baking skills.

Emma Sheardown has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and is an International Athlete for Great Britain. With European and World titles to her name she’s no stranger to being in the spotlight and is a confident public speaker but having just started to look for work outside the familiarity of the sporting world, she admitted to having some concerns.

I’m looking forward to the challenge of entering the ‘world of work’ but I am slightly apprehensive because of my disability. If someone is paying me to work for them, will I be quick enough completing a task and will people be able to understand my speech enough to communicate or discuss important tasks? As we know, unfortunately not everyone is understanding of disability so I am a bit concerned about any situations that might knock my confidence in that environment.

Emma Sheardown

At The Cookie Bar, students have the opportunity to get involved in various aspects of the business, whether that’s working with mathematics on the till, dealing with the customers or making cakes in the kitchen. In this forgiving environment, customers are patient and give the young person the time that they need to work out what it is they need to do, as well as having the understanding that if they make mistakes it doesn’t matter. By eliminating some of these worries and pressures, focus is shifted onto practising tasks and learning skills in a more relaxed setting in preparation for the fast paced manner that is often expected in customer service, where speed and efficiency are top priorities. The goal here is more long term and developmental, to equip the students with life skills and to build confidence that will enable them to flourish in whatever path they choose to take.

Joe Johnson spoke to us about his experience – having volunteered at The Cookie Bar during his time at Stepping Stones School, Joe later took up a paid position and is currently involved in supporting their social media.

Volunteering has been extremely rewarding for me. It has taught me new skills and given me a bigger role in my community. It’s changed the way I approach my work and improved how I engage socially. However, the biggest factor for me: there is no feeling quite like helping people.

Joe Johnson - former student at Stepping Stones School

In order for this success to continue, The Cookie Bar needs volunteers to work alongside the young people and to provide assistance in front of house serving and baking. Volunteers will be given full training and support and will join their fun and enthusiastic team making a difference to young people’s lives.

To find out more please apply to 01428 608001 or email them at thecookiebar@coins-global.com.