BUSINESSES across the North East are being given the opportunity to learn about creating jobs for disabled people at a special networking event.

Smile For Life Children’s Charity has organised Empower Networking as part of their #EmpowerAndEmploy campaign – to raise awareness of how disabled people can be valuable in the workplace.

Kenny Atkinson, patron of the charity and owner of Newcastle’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, has backed the campaign and will be the guest speaker at the event at Harry’s Bar and Restaurant on Thursday, May 17th.

Currently just 23.9% of people of working age with a learning difficulty are in employment nationally, while the North East has the second-lowest employment rate for disabled people out of all regions of the UK.

Paula Gascoigne, Chief Executive of Smile For Life, hopes to address this problem. She said: “We are calling for North East businesses to open their doors to young people with disabilities to give them the opportunity to shine and fulfil their aspirations, whilst making a great contribution to the region’s workforce. 

“We opened up Café Beam just over four years ago and have seen first-hand the value that young people with disabilities can have in the workplace.

“The Empower Networking event will be a great opportunity to hear from some inspirational people, including Kenny and students from Café Beam, as well as mingle and enjoy some delicious food.”

Paula hopes this is just the beginning for the campaign. She added: “The #EmpowerAndEmploy campaign is in line with the Government’s pledge to get one million disabled people into work over the next 10 years, so this is a real boost to kick that off across the region.

“We have fantastic, supportive businesses here in the North East – so come on and get behind these amazing young people who just need the chance to shine.”

Paula and Kenny hope to improve understanding of disabilities and show that being disabled doesn’t mean you cannot excel in employment if you are given the right opportunity.

Kenny, who recently invited two autistic students from Café Beam into his kitchen at House of Tides for training, said: “The #EmpowerAndEmploy campaign makes perfect sense – if it gets more people out of unemployment it will only benefit society.

“It’s all about giving individuals an opportunity to build confidence, build friends and gain a sense of purpose and normality as well.

“We hope to see as many businesses as possible backing this initiative and coming along to this fantastic event.”

The Empower Networking event will take place from 12 noon – 2pm on Thursday, May 17th. Tickets are £20 and include a 2-course lunch, chosen by participants in advance.

To book tickets please visit: or call Smile For Life on 0191 2844166.

All proceeds from the event will go towards supporting and enhancing the lives of disabled and disadvantaged youngsters in the North East.