Good Causes

Lockdown easing lets Superstars shine again

When the Superstars Cafe in Cookstown, Northern Ireland opened its doors to customers for the first time since the start of the lockdown, a crowd of local people greeted it like an old friend.

May McAvoy who founded the cafe 16 years ago, said, “People flocked to see us, to say hello and welcome us back. We had balloons and bunting up and we sold out of everything we had.”

The re-opening of the cafe was also a big moment for 28-year-old Keith Wylie, one of the team of young trainees who work in its kitchen and serve its customers. Keith, who suffered a brain injury in a car accident that claimed the life of his mother, said, “I really missed coming here and seeing all the customers and the nice people I work with.”

The cafe – part of a National Lottery-funded social enterprise set up to train and assist young people with learning disabilities – reopened on 3rd July following new guidance from authorities in Northern Ireland. Only 4 of its 10 tables are in use and opening days are limited to Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Nicola Hughes, 29, another trainee who works alongside Keith, was equally delighted to have a break from a long, isolating lockdown spent at home. She said, “It got a bit boring. It’s good being back and seeing all the customers again.”

For May, the reopening of the cafe, which employs about 30 trainees, is a hugely positive development. She said, “Oh my goodness – it’s a breath of fresh air. We are here to help young people with learning disabilities so even getting just half the staff back is worth it. The reward is seeing how happy they are.”

The reopening of the cafe for the first time since 16th March is not the only part of Superstars that is back in action. May, who founded the organisation after becoming frustrated by the lack of opportunities available to her own son, Jon, who has Down’s syndrome and autism, was determined not to let the young people she works with languish during lockdown.

At the start of May, she began taking trainees on litter picking walks to local beauty spots in and around Cookstown. In June, small groups were allowed to return to the building across the road from the cafe where Superstars trainees are paid to assemble parts for a local engineering firm.

The most recent development – the reopening of the cafe on the busy main road that bisects Cookstown – feels like the icing on the cake. May said, “This has become a place in Cookstown where people from any walk of life, any ability or disability, feel comfortable. There’s great empathy, a great welcome here. We’ll go the extra mile to make people feel comfortable and we’re proud of that.”

16th July 2020

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