Local partnership unlocks opportunities for disabled students

published on 7 Jun 2023

A local Bicester partnership is bringing catering and hospitality skills training to young people with special educational needs and disabilities through a community café at The Salvation Army at Hart Place.

The Vine café offers a safe, supervised space for seven to eight students, aged 16+ from The Lodge, Bardwell School each week to take part in activities such as preparing food, cooking, and serving food to other café visitors, helping them to learn new skills and build their confidence.


The initiative is the brainchild of Salvation Army church leader Lieutenant Jamie Slater who cooks and oversees the operation alongside husband and co-leader, Lieutenant Ray Slater. She says:

“We are not aware of any funds for training students with special educational needs or disabilities until they are adults, and this meant too many of our local young people were being denied the opportunities to show what they can bring to their local community.

“The students get to be who they are here and do what they want to do. They interact with other people in our community, work towards goals, and learn new skills that will help get them ready for adult life.”

The students can prepare food and serve around 45 customers from the local community every Tuesday lunchtime, a mixture of older customers, students’ parents and families, and even local police officers. With small workplace adjustments, such as talking weighing scales, braille recipes and menus with pictures, all students can get the experience of a real, thriving workplace.

Officers at the church in Bicester, Lieutenants Jamie and Ray Slater

Hayley Laughlin, Post-14 lead teacher at Bardwell School said: “There are not a lot of places that give these opportunities to students with additional needs. At The Salvation Army they are so welcoming and patient and it is a safe space for them to come. For some of our students, this programme will make a big difference in finding future work placements, while for others it is as simple and crucial as making a social connection. Students are gaining confidence and verbalising more, and developing relationships, experiences that will enhance their lives now and into the future.”

Lieutenant Jamie says:

“All too often students with additional needs are overlooked and don’t get the help they need to be able to work and contribute to their local communities. At The Vine Café, we show what can be done with the right support and enabling students to own their achievements.”

Regular customers at The Vine cafe in Bicester enjoying lunch together

The partnership formed in October 2022 between The Salvation Army and The Lodge, Bardwell School.  

The Vine café is open between 11am and 2pm on Tuesdays, during term time.

You are welcome!
A young mum is sitting on a brown sofa with her little girl. They are talking to a female Salvatiton Army officer.

Support our spring appeal

Help us be there for struggling families