Artysans Café

Posted by editor 28/05/2013 0 Comment 3096 views

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By Jenny McBain

For teachers and others who work with young people, witnessing some of them slide into long term unemployment and homelessness is a bit like watching a disaster movie in slow motion. There are warning signs long before catastrophe strikes. However, poor outcomes need not be inevitable for anyone, according to Isobel Grigor who is the chief executive of the Calman Trust in Inverness. The trust runs a range of social enterprises geared at introducing young people into the world of work but they start by doing a thorough assessment of the young person’s needs.

They offer support to all sorts of young people; not just those who are homeless or in difficulties. Rather, there is a recognition that many young people cannot thrive in the theoretical environment of a classroom. Isobel says, “We start by working out where they are and what they want to achieve. It is a dynamic and ongoing process. At the heart of our model is a focus on making sure the young person is ready for the challenge. If you miss out on that preparatory work and plant a young person into a work situation and expect them to sustain it, you are setting them up for failure.”

Isobel is clearly at home in the bustling Artysans Café in Inverness city centre. So are the many customers. The staff are pleasant, friendly and well presented in smart uniforms and embroidered aprons and a delicious scent of freshly roasted coffee beans fills the air. This is where many of Calman’s protégées are serving out their apprenticeships.

Isobel says, “This may look like a regular café but it is actually an accredited academy where people are training for Scottish Vocational Qualifications. We have deliberately styled Artysans as a professional venue so customers expect a level of service. This means our young workers can progress and walk into another job”

All catering establishments have a sense of the theatrical but what goes on behind the scenes at Artysans is truly remarkable. Many of the young people were disenchanted by school and some have had to contend with a lack of family support and other potentially crippling personal problems or learning difficulties. So a high degree of nurturing and positivity is required.

Isobel says, “Negative experiences in school create negative experiences in the head. Some young people begin to believe that it is their fault when things go wrong; that they are messed up. We need to challenge that narrative and response and encourage them to become more resilient so they are equipped to work through problems believing they can come out the other end.”

Isobel is keen to emphasise that working in the café is just one step along a progressive pathway and a small part of a holistic process. In her opinion, those who are inspired to set up similar enterprises would be ill advised were they to simply open a business and expect young people to immediately step up to the mark.

She describes the Artysan approach this way, “We need to ask ourselves if the young person is ready for work. There is a scarring effect of repeated failure and we want to avoid setting young people up to fail. We assess their readiness to progress and help them tackle problems. Some have a lack of knowledge about how to look after themselves and how to deal with money. With regards to housing, it is not just a question of finding accommodation; tenancies have to be sustained.”

Not everyone is suited to the demanding rigours of front line catering. So, Made By Artysans has been set up to produce customised clothing, gift items and print orders. This strand of the business, alongside the café and an outside catering service currently provides the trust with around a fifth of its income. There are hopes that this will rise to around a third in the near future. The rest of the organisation’s running costs come from public sector funding, fees and private sources.

Just as our coffee has been drunk down to the delicious dregs, employee Andrew Whitehouse comes over for a chat. Andrew, who is 20 years old, has now completed a Modern Apprenticeship and is a valued permanent employee who was winner of the “Young Shining Star Award” at the Highlands and Islands Food and Drinks Awards 2012. Having overcome a period of unemployment and embraced the opportunity to learn new skills while earning, he is now capable of organising a buffet for fifty people.

He says, “At Artysans Café, it’s not just about making a latte or whatever. You don’t just learn skills, you learn about yourself and how to become part of a team. It gives you the confidence to work and be with other people. That translates into my personal life.”

Isobel is equally positive about her chosen career as a social entrepreneur. She says, “There is something incredibly energising about being allowed to work in a job alongside other people who are growing and developing. Actually we are all busy doing that; none of us is the finished article.”

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