Hundreds of disabled youngsters in the region could benefit from a charity’s ambitious plan to double its work placement opportunities – if they can find new premises.

Smile For Life set up Café Beam almost four years ago, run by young people with disabilities, and it has been such a success that the charity needs bigger premises to meet the increasing demand for work placements.

The first Café Beam saw the Gosforth charity’s downstairs office transformed into a small café in 2014, and the following year two weekly pop-up cafes were set up at the Church of the Holy Nativity, Chapel House, and Newburn Activity Centre, enabling more opportunities and integration in the community.

Café Beam was the brainchild of Smile For Life CEO Paula Gascoigne, whose New Year’s dream is now to find bigger premises to help more students across the North East.

She said: “We are a small local charity but we have big dreams, and our 2018 goal is to find new premises in the Newcastle area so that many more youngsters can benefit from the fantastic opportunities Café Beam offers.

“Everyone that completes a placement at Café Beam leaves as a trained barista, with new confidence and life-skills that will set them up for life.

“When we opened our doors our aim was to provide hands-on experience and skills to help make the difficult transition from education into work for disabled young people.

“So far we have helped more than 200 young people gain these skills but there are so many more we could be helping. We want to expand so we can help change as many lives as possible.”

The charity currently provides 60 placements a year to students from schools and colleges across the North East who work shifts serving customers, handling cash and becoming trained baristas. The food is freshly prepared by students with Autism from ESPA college, providing subsequent opportunities to them too.

Paula hopes that new, bigger premises would also expand the type of work placements that could be offered.

She added: “We appreciate that working in a coffee shop is not for everyone and therefore would love to diversify and perhaps open a retail outlet, a workshop for bicycle maintenance and repairs and a garden for growing fresh produce to support the local community.

“We are currently in small shopping area of Gosforth and would love to remain in the vicinity, but we are willing to move if the perfect premises became available.

“We’d love somewhere with a good footfall, ideally within a supportive community and which is located near to public transport routes to ensure our students can easily access their placements. If anyone can help us, please do get in touch.”

The charity’s New Year goal comes as the government has set out plans to get one million more disabled people into work over the next 10 years.

If you would like more information, or think you can help Smile For Life with options of new premises, please call 0191 284 4166.