Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 11.24.58A SUNDERLAND businessman has received a royal appointment in recognition of his work to support young people with learning difficulties.

Kam Chera, who owns and runs The Funky Indian restaurant in Sunderland, received the invitation to Buckingham Palace, to acknowledge the work he is doing to give young people with special educational needs the chance to gain skills in hospitality and customer service.

The 37-year old entrepreneur launched Stars on Earth last year, after deciding he wanted to do more to support young people who might otherwise face challenges in gaining work experience and pursuing a career.  The initiative sees young people take on training in front-of-house skills at The Funky Indian, over the course of a 10-week programme designed to maximise their abilities and boost their confidence.

Mr Chera said: “I am incredibly privileged to have worked with some inspiring young people who are all very special in their own way.  Stars on Earth was a chance to give something back, but we walked away from it feeling that we got so much from being part of the experience, and it inspired us to turn this into a broader scheme that will touch the lives of even more people across the city.

“Delivering the Stars on Earth programme has been so rewarding, so to be invited to Buckingham Palace is the icing on the cake and a tremendous honour.  I’m excited but nervous about it, as it came completely out of the blue.  It is great recognition for us and not only that, it’s a great chance for us to put Sunderland on the map.”

Mr Chera – who recently moved tapas restaurant The Funky Indian from Tavistock Place to the former Mowbray Hotel building – is in the process of developing Stars on Earth as a standalone social enterprise and has aspirations to run 10-week courses for more than 200 young people with learning difficulties, or those who have more challenging social needs or circumstances.  He also hopes that the reach of the initiative can extend beyond Sunderland, working with young people from neighbouring areas.

“We saw how working in a real life environment inspired young people, and showed them the options available to them after school.

“For lots of the young people we had join us, their aspirations are shaped by what they think they are capable of.  After spending time with us, you could see their horizons broadening, and there was a realisation that there are more opportunities out there than they realised.  And we were able to offer one of the young people we supported an apprenticeship.  He is now very much part of the team.”

Mr Chera worked with make-up artist Amanda Bell, who provided support to the young people with their presentation and etiquette skills.  And Mr Chera has also been helped out by local business Cowell and George, which has helped with branding for Stars on Earth, and social housing business Gentoo, which helped get the initiative off the ground.  The MAC Trust is also supporting the project’s next training programmes, and is working with Kam and his team to run a series of cultural workshops and classes in line with Sunderland’s City of Culture 2021 campaign.  The programme will engage with European, Indian, Chinese, Philippine communities, running classes for children, as well as adults, to educate people of Sunderland about what these cultures have to offer.

Mr Chera added: “The visit to Buckingham Palace is something I will do on behalf of all of the people and businesses who have supported us along the way.  We have high hopes for the future of Stars on Earth, and so, to be able to take our work to the palace, and tell other about the great collaborative effort that has been made by Sunderland people to get this initiative off the ground is unbelievable.”

Gary Hutchinson, chair of Sunderland Business Partnership – a group that is using its collective clout to work together and promote the city – said: “Kam is a really inspiring entrepreneur, who has not only succeeded in business, but is using that as a platform to help some of the city’s most vulnerable young people.

“Kam not only flies the flag for Stars on Earth, he does so for Sunderland, and I’d like to congratulate him and his team on behalf of all of the Sunderland Business Partnership.”