A busy kitchen filled with enthusiastic cooks signing food orders marked the opening of the Jewish Deaf Association’s new cafe on Tuesday.
Dcafe – its official name – is staffed entirely by retired and unemployed deaf volunteers and it is a unique initiative that has been in the planning since the charity became a lifeline for those who could not access mainstream support.
“Four years ago more and more deaf people who could only communicate in sign language started turning up at our door asking for help,” JDA’s chief executive Sue Cippin told Dcafe’s first guests. “Many of their stories were pitiful as they had been turned away by everyone else and we realised it was time to take urgent action.”
The charity’s response was to launch BSL Tuesdays Information & Advice Service, which operates as a citizens advice bureau drop-in centre for the Deaf and Deafblind community and offers full access to information, telephone calls, translation services and specialist support. But its popularity as a meeting hub also lead to regular coffee mornings enjoyed by those who felt isolated or home alone.
“Then our regular morning coffee guests asked: ‘Why can’t we stay for lunch?” added Sue, who tried to let go of the nagging idea that the charity should open a cafe, but couldn’t.
On Tuesday Dcafe’s sponsors Irving and Gillian Carter and Janet and Derek Alexander joined JDA life members Martin Bogard, Miriam Solomon and Ann Hart for lunch prepared by the volunteers who did training courses to prepare them for the task.
“This project will upskill Dcafe volunteers and give them opportunities in life that could lead to paid employment, “ said Ann Clements, the JDA staff member managing the project. “Once they are ready to move on, new volunteers will be brought in and have the same training opportunities.”