Students with learning difficulties gain first-hand work experience thanks to their own innovative community café.


At your service: Ryan Fletcher, 16, pours tea for Gemma Duxbury while Steph Quigley, 16, serves Judey Lindsay with a cake.

The Garage Café,Haslingden, Lancashire UK –  has opened at Tor View Community Special School. It is run by Jackie Dykes, who has experience of running a coffee shop in Bacup Café Berg, and whose son Thomas attends the school.

It is called The Garage because that is just what the building used to be before it was renovated along with other derelict buildings in a £2.5million project on the site adjacent to the main school.

Jackie said:

“My son Thomas is five and spent his first term in mainstream school waiting for a statement.

“He has been at Tor View since January and the difference in him is incredible. He is autistic and has severe learning difficulties.

When I was pregnant with Thomas he would shake inside the womb and I knew something was not right; the pregnancy was completely different to when I had my three daughters.”

As a newborn baby he would violently shake his Moses basket, but Jackie still had to wait years before Thomas was given a proper diagnosis.

When Thomas started at Tor View he was non-verbal.

“Now he can talk and is toilet trained. They do amazing things here.”

Although the café had been created it was not up and running and Jackie was asked by the school if she could open it properly because they knew of her background and experience.

Every penny raised in The Garage Café goes back to the school to benefit the pupils.


The Garage Café manager Jackie Dykes helps Shannon Clark, 17, with service.

Older students, aged 16 to 19, will be using the café for apprenticeships with the supervision of Jackie and a teaching assistant. They will be serving customers and taking money and learning how a café runs.

A specially adapted till has been bought using Makaton signs that the students recognise and understand how to cash up orders.

Chairman of governors Peter Sweetmore said:

“I am delighted that this is now being used. It is a community asset and we want to encourage the community to come here and see what it is all about.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for Tor View and for our students to get experience of work to give them options for their future once they leave our school.”

Already The Cotton Shed Theatre is using the café for a Sign and Rhyme session on a Tuesday.

Jackie will be contacting local homes for the elderly to see if residents want to come to the café for lunch and will be arranging the school minibus as transport as the facilities are fully accessible.

It is also well used by staff and School Direct trainees who are completing their teacher training qualifications s at Tor View, which is a National Teaching School.

Anyone is welcome to call in and see what the café has to offer or contact Jackie via email