It is very rare to be able to say that a café is run as much for its employees as for its customers (and not mean customers are treated as an intrusion!), but the Courtyard Café is such a place.
Its sharp looks (a range of modern furniture, contemporary colour scheme) and clientele (groups of young parents with prams and people like me reading a paper) would be at home on the high street of any affluent suburb. Which is just as well, as it sits at the top of Horsforth town street, which offers a few food and drink options to residents of what one of my friends who was brought up there insists is ‘England’s largest village’.*
The menu isn’t full of surprises or particularly extensive, but the food is plentiful, tasty and offers good value for a decent lunch or a quick coffee and cake. But while the customer experience is central to the Courtyard Café’s business model, it’s the experience gained by its staff that sets it apart from the competition.
Courtyard Café was set up as a social enterprise just over 12 months ago to offer support and care for people with learning disabilities after Leeds City Council – which part-funds the café through a grant – closed local day care centres.
The Courtyard’s manager, Jenna Peel, explained the model. They currently have 28 volunteers with learning disabilities, typically working 1 or 2 days a week fulfilling all the roles front of house and cooking roles in a café.
There is no specific length of volunteering placement, but the goal is to build the confidence and competence to ultimately find paid work, something which Jenna believes will happen very soon.
“We’ve just celebrated our first anniversary and many of the café’s employees are ready; there are some really competent and employable people. And it is more than just café or food prep work work; they are really confident and customer-focused.
“You can definitely see a change in people. We have a few people who were quite scared to start with. Within the first few weeks confidence builds, and their personality starts to come out. All the volunteers enjoy coming. They take responsibility to come here themselves and enjoy it.”
The enthusiasm, pride and involvement of the two volunteers today – Daniel and Catherine – certainly reinforces Jenna’s point.
And there is more than the Courtyard Café’s employment policy to recommend it as goodforleeds. The company is committed to ‘Honest Ethical Local’ principles. All the ingredients are locally and organically sourced, something which is easier to do with meat and bread than the fruit and veg. Remarkably, Jenna tells me, England’s largest village doesn’t have its own independent grocers! Jenna says the ‘Local’ appreciation is reciprocated:
“We’ve had a really good reaction from people who come into the café. They seem really glad we are here.”
The menu has just changed to mark the café’s second year, but it all remains home-made – and regulars will be pleased to know that the range of quiches and cakes have survived the overhaul.
*My rudimentary research into this suggests that Horsforth is not alone in claiming this title!
The Courtyard Cafe
96 Town Street