How it all began

Val Hutchinson and her husband, Joe, founded the lively café for their son, John, and his best friend, John Shepherd, who also inspired the name. Val said: “We want them to be able to do what they want to do, without anything put in their way because they are disabled.” Many of Café JJ’s customers have been coming for lunch for more than a decade, something Val attributes to the atmosphere. Val added: “It’s fantastic. We know our customers by name, and they know us. We’re very inclusive and welcome everyone.”

Making a difference

Great food and friendship are always on the menu at Café JJ. The Darlington eatery feeds 90 loyal patrons every Tuesday and supports 11 people with learning disabilities to run the café, which is based at Clifton Community Centre. The grant not only made a difference to the lives of the 11 disabled people we support but also the 65 – 90 members of the community who visit the cafe every Tuesday. The community members have realised that people with disabilities have skills and work hard to benefit others. In many cases, attitudes to disabled people have been improved and become more tolerant as people realise what disabled people can achieve when barriers are removed. The lives of the 11 members of Team JJ have continued to be enhanced by attending Cafe JJ and having a constructive and rewarding activity. They have a focus in their lives and know they are valued as essential members of a team that runs a very successful community cafe. Their self confidence improves as well as their catering and customer service skills. Team JJ are recognised as skilled volunteers and inspire others to get involved. The isolation that some disabled people experience is prevented as the team form friendships within the team and with customers which improves their social life and inclusion in the non disabled community.

With thanks to you

Funding from County Durham Community Foundation supports rental costs for the charity: allowing them to keep their prices low and the café accessible. Val said: “We do feel that we’re working with friends because they take such an interest in us. We feel that they appreciate what we do and we appreciate what they do!”

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