Erin Watson (left) and Zest owner Lisa Cathro try the new disabled push pad on the front door. Pic: ASM Media & PR

Award-winning St Andrews social enterprise café Zest is reopening for takeaway on Thursday April 15 with an even more inclusive welcome thanks to its latest staff training and investment during Lockdown.

Well before the latest lockdown began, the South Street social enterprise which helps young people with additional needs find or keep meaningful paid work was training all its staff in accessible communication – interacting with people in a way more easily understood by folk with communication difficulties – through Communication Access UK, an initiative led by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

Doing this was a natural extension of the enabling philosophy behind Zest and it’s one of the first organisations in Scotland to train all its staff in it – to help customers and other staff be better understood if they have a health problem or are suffering from ‘Long Covid’ – in which the growing number of sufferers talk about “brain fog” making understanding others difficult.

Last week Lisa and two staff members also did training on neurodiversity in the service industry – serving people with all kinds of personalities and mental health issues – with autistic author, advocate and TEDx speaker, Jude Morrow.

Improved access

Zest also has better physical disabled access and communication thanks to a £10,000 grant from Fife Council’s Fife Town Centre Building Improvement Grant scheme, enabled by funding from the Scottish Government’s Town Centre Capital Fund.

The front door and disabled toilet now have ‘push pads’ at wheelchair height to activate powered door opening and a green/red light system to show when the toilet is vacant/occupied, which customers can more easily see from a distance. It’s also hoped it will encourage them to stay in their seats while waiting to use the toilet – rather than forming queue – as waiting seated is more Covid-secure.

Former Zest trainee and wheelchair user Erin Watson, from Leuchars, who campaigns for more accessible places in North East Fife, said: “This is great, as it allows wheelchair users to have independence. Quite often businesses say their toilets are ‘wheelchair-accessible’ because they have grab bars etc but that’s no use if we can’t easily get through the door in the first place!”

The café, which plans to fully reopen on April 26 if that date is confirmed by Scottish Government, also now has planters outside with a glass screen to create a sheltered area for people to eat and drink outside, which is also a Covid-security improvement.

Kickstart jobs

Finally, the social enterprise café is using the UK Government’s Kickstart Scheme to give up to three young people aged 16-24 the opportunity of six months’ work and training for 25 hours a week.

It’s inclusively recruiting them – ‘positively discriminating’ in how it finds and selects them by not just posting the job at JobCentre Plus but also proactively telling agencies which help disabled people, posting them on their social media and spreading the word through Fife Council’s Supported Employment Service.

Zest is offering one place initially, then staging in the other opportunities later. Anyone wanting to apply, must do so through JobCentre Plus.

Speaking about the inclusivity improvements, Lisa Cathro said: “We’re delighted to be able to increase the inclusivity of our service and facilities because providing an equally warm welcome for all is at the heart of what we do.”

The Zest website can be found at http://wearezest.co.uk/