Opportunity knocks: New training café at Te Tuhi

The Covid-19 global pandemic, and the subsequent lockdown, has seen everyone considering what the new normal looks like.

For many disabled people, this has resulted in greater uncertainty, greater concerns for health, and even fewer employment opportunities.

Tom Russell was one of the people who was initially worried about the “new normal”.

As a result of Covid-19 and the subsequent lack of long-haul flights, Tom lost his supported employment at Altus Enterprises where he had worked for around five years refurbishing Air New Zealand’s headphones.

However, it turned out that Tom’s situation is better and brighter than he could have imagined.

Local board members mixed with trainees and cafe managers at the opening. Photo Wayne Martin

Tom is among the first trainees at Aotearoa New Zealand’s first training café for people with intellectual disabilities, now open at Pakuranga’s contemporary art gallery, Te Tuhi.

The café is run in partnership with Rescare Homes Trust and the University of Auckland and provides in-house training and paid employment for people with intellectual disabilities.

The café officially launched at Te Tuhi on Wednesday July 20 with an enthusiastic turnout that included friends, whānau and supporters from all of the partners along with local politicians, community groups, and café patrons.

It serves homemade cabinet food, Phoenix Organics beverages and barista-made coffee, with coffee beans sourced from The Lucy Foundation, a disability empowerment organisation which manages an entire supply chain of coffee that is inclusive of people with disabilities from Mexico, the country of origin, to New Zealand where the coffee is imported.

Over the initial training period, Tom has already mastered the use of the industrial dishwasher, taking and delivery of food orders and basic work skills.

He is now looking forward to mastering the cash register and doing more extensive food preparation. Tom says that the opportunity to be part of the training café was a perfect fit, as he has family members working in hospitality.

He says the supportive environment is great, “I really, really like going to the café. Everyone is so easy-going and the customers are really good”.

Tracey Lanigan, CEO of Rescare Homes Trust, echoes Tom’s feelings and is excited to see the benefits for the current and future intakes of trainees.

“The training café is an excellent stepping stone to learn new skills in a supportive environment and we are excited to be partnering with Te Tuhi and the University of Auckland in creating equal learning, training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities,” says Tracey.

Hiraani Himona, executive director of Te Tuhi, was delighted at the number of attendees at the launch.

“Nearly $2000 was raised at the launch event by generous donations from members of the community. The café is a non-profit social enterprise and while we anticipate that it will become fully self-sustaining, currently all partners are contributing financially,” says Hiraani.

“The café welcomes donations to cover costs including trainer wages and accessible equipment, but more than anything, we encourage everyone to support the project by spreading the word and using the café”.

Although it is hoped that the training café will be a stepping stone to even more employment opportunities for Tom, currently he is just taking his time to appreciate his “new normal”, saying that he is “just really, really happy to be here”.

Te Tuhi Café is open Monday to Saturday, 9am-2pm and located at 13 Reeves Road, Pakuranga. Te Tuhi is fully accessible, with step-free entrances, accessible parking and toilets. If you would like to support the training café, visit www.tetuhi.art/supportte-tuhi-cafe.