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Hospitality Academy (Learning Difficulties/Autism)

by People First in Carlisle, England, United Kingdom

Hospitality Academy (Learning Difficulties/Autism)
We did it
On 7th December 2021 we successfully raised £366 with 12 supporters in 42 days

Raising funds to support the People First Hospitality Academy programme for people with learning difficulties and/or autism aged 16-24.

by People First in Carlisle, England, United Kingdom

People First Hospitality Academy Raising Funds For: 'Hospitality Academy Electric Catering Van'

The People First Hospitality Academy is an educational and hospitality work experience internship programme (based in Carlisle, Cumbria), for people with learning difficulties and/or autism aged 16-24.  

The Academy would like to diversify it's services by providing a first-class catering delivery service to businesses and organisations in the local community via an electric Hospitality Academy Catering Van.   

Example below of what our dream van would look like!


Background: Our Charity and What We Aim to Achieve via the Hospitality Academy Internship Programme

People First has the views of those that we aim to assist at the core of our strategic planning and decision making. After then listening to the views of people with learning difficulties and/or autism, People First became acutely aware that people with learning difficulties and/or autism do not have the same opportunities as others in relation to education, employment opportunities and social inclusion.


To address this, in January 2018, People First embarked upon an exciting new project; The People First Conference and Centre for Learning, located on Milbourne Street, Carlisle. Previously an abandoned library, People First gave it a new lease of life; renovating it and providing a conference centre ‘with a difference’ to the local community.




The People First Conference and Centre for Learning is unique in that not only does the centre serve as a large conference, event and support hub for the local community, but they recruit people with learning difficulties and/or autism to run the centre. (‘The Hospitality Academy’). The project is also unique in that is focuses on the education and skills development of people with learning difficulties aged 16-24, who may have previously faced challenges within the mainstream curriculum. It is a real and inclusive alternative to traditional day services; creating long lasting change within the local community.


What they do:


The Centre for Learning Team provide a range of training, skills and development opportunities for young adults aged 16-24 with learning difficulties and/or autism from across Cumbria, in catering, hospitality, conference centre management and administration skills. Receiving on the job training, (and within a busy conference centre) as part of the in-house 'Hospitality Academy', students are able to achieve accredited qualifications via Open Awards (via a set programme, personal development plan and role focused training). Upon completion of the programme, students will be employed at People First or supported to take up employment elsewhere.


The aim of the project is to provide essential skills and training to young people with learning difficulties and/or autism; with the aim that this will create employment opportunities, encourage social inclusion and independent living. It will also serve as a genuine stepping-stone to employment and independence, with many skills acquired transferable to other industries.  This will in turn improve the life skills, education and enterprise of vulnerable and disadvantaged young people; addressing inequality, deprivation, social exclusion and most importantly, enabling more people with learning difficulties in the local community to fulfil their true potential.


This is a real and practical alternative to Day Services.


The Team


The Centre for Learning Team is creating incredible life-changing opportunities for people with learning difficulties. Hospitality Academy students are provided with the opportunity to train whilst working in a real-life working environment; working towards qualifications in food hygiene, catering, hospitality and customer service. This is a very different approach to mainstream education and is more inclusive in nature; working side by side with people without learning difficulties and/or autism and external customers.


2021: Celebrating it's Third Birthday:


On the 19th of February 2021, the Conference and Centre for Learning celebrated its third birthday and has established itself as the only provider of this type of conference and hospitality service in Cumbria! During the pandemic, the Team and Students were also nominated for a National Diversity Award.




The Riverbank Kitchen:


On the 11th of March 2020, People First also opened up its very own in-house café located within the Conference Centre (‘The Riverbank Kitchen’) where students can train and learn in their very own kitchen and provide internal catering for events and conferences.





After three years, the Centre for Learning Team is now being recognised as a team and organisation that is thinking differently about how to improve the lives of people with learning difficulties (particularly in relation to education and employment opportunities) and influencing change in the way that the wider public and employers view people with learning difficulties and their recruitment.


For example, The Centre for Learning Team has established key links and partnerships with local employers such as the Halston Hotel. Before the Pandemic, students were undertaking regular work experience at the Halston Hotel. Please see links below to news articles.


The Halston Hotel are becoming great partners in providing students with opportunities for authentic work experience outside of the conference centre. They are enthusiastic in helping to change the attitudes and perceptions of local employers (especially in the hospitality industry) in the local area and becoming more diverse in their recruitment. The Halston are proud of their link with us and are promoting it via Cumbria Tourism and the local press. We also working with Work Experience Coordinators at Lowther Castle to provide blocks of experience for students so that they can see the fantastic rural opportunities Cumbria has for Hospitality Academy Employment and placements.


Present Day:


During the pandemic, the centre remained open as a training centre for the NHS.  As one of the largest venues in Carlisle, People First were best placed to assist in the emergency response to the pandemic, and initially offered free of charge training rooms to the NHS. Our students were able to (where restrictions allowed) to continue some of the practical elements of their training within the centre in a Covid-19 secure environment.  During lockdown, students were able to continue their learning remotely, with discretionary evidence being accepted by Open Awards.


The conference centre is seeing a marked increase in bookings for large events and meetings, with amazing feedback received about the service provided by the Hospitality Academy Students; working safely within Covid-19 restrictions and health and safety measures. The Riverbank Kitchen is now the final element to our centre and is very much at the heart of our conference centre.


This innovative approach to the education, enterprise and employment needs of people with learning difficulties has meant that in just over 3 years, we are already seeing a marked difference in the attitude of local employers towards the recruitment (especially in the Hospitality Industry) and education of people in Cumbria with learning difficulties and/or autism.


For example, The Savoy Trust has recently sponsored the Hospitality Academy; enabling them to buy a top of the range and accessible coffee machine. We have received support from McVities Biscuits (Carlisle), and sponsorship from local businesses such as Innovia, Dobies, Online Systems and Business in the Community, The Prince’s Responsible Business Network.


The Centre for Learning Team has also supported the students to make a presentation to delegates at the Learning Disability England National conference about the work and activities of Hospitality Academy; raising awareness of the educational and employment needs (and wants!) of people with learning difficulties.  


For more information on our Academy please see prospectus below.


How We Will Use The Money Raised

As the Conference Centre is one of the largest venues and spaces in Carlisle, People First is best placed to provide a bespoke, socially distanced and ‘Covid-Safe’ venue for members of the community accessing our services and other third sector organisations wishing to utilise the centre.   The Academy has already been successful in receiving Covid-19 grant funding to purchase equipment to adapt the centre (and for our students) such as PPE, Perspex screens, technology for hybrid events, signage, thermometers, sanitation stations, self-service coffee machines, partitions etc so that we are able to adapt our current premises and ways of working for our students; enabling them to continue the practical elements of their learning with Open Awards.  

People First is however seeking to diversify and extend Hospitality Academy services to include external catering and delivery services.

Food will be prepared and cooked by Students with the support of a Hospitality Job Coach within the Riverbank Kitchen. The Hospitality Academy van will be fully branded and utilised to showcase the work of the Academy at external catering events and venues and act as an effective marketing tool for promoting the Academy and the People First charity. This will help People First to attract further income which will be reinvested into further projects to enable people with learning difficulties and/or autism to live independent lives.

 In the next 6-12 months People First also aims to build upon external business hospitality partnerships in order to be able to offer more work experience and opportunities for paid employment for students following graduation from the Academy. 



*The Centre is a registered centre with Open Awards and delivers nationally recognised accredited qualifications. The Centre is also now an accredited UCLan Undergraduate Medical Training Practice and Gen2 Accredited Apprentice Employer*.


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