To enable the food and drink kiosk at Port Sunlight River Park to reopen after the pandemic, members of Autism Together’s volunteer group, who are all adults on the autism spectrum, completed food hygiene and manual handling training and prepared to open the kiosk to the public once more.
The volunteers are all supported by Wirral-based Autism Together, a charity which offers meaningful and achievable work experience and valuable life skills to the autistic adults it supports.
One of the sites the charity manages is Port Sunlight River Park, a picturesque 28-hectare coastal park on the banks of the River Mersey, which is owned by The Land Trust.
The volunteers work in the River Park to learn new skills and interact with the public. The team take it in turns to work at the food kiosk, alongside their regular River Park duties, such as mowing and litter picking. They are assisted in the kiosk kitchen by Linda, an experienced volunteer.
Led by Neil Murphy, Autism Together’s Activity Manager at the River Park, there are six members of the volunteer group, part of Autism Together’s Community and Vocational Services. They are Steven Parson, Jake Sanguinetti, Chris Molloy, Liam Sharp, Conor Jones and Daniel Rodger.
Steven, Jake and Chris were trained up first. Steven had previous experience working in the kitchen, while both Jake and Chris had gained external training certificates before so were well-placed to help Liam, Conor and Daniel learn the ropes when they were doing their on-the-job training.
In order to safely work in the kiosk and its kitchen, the group had to complete food hygiene courses, giving them an understanding of safe food handling procedures, including personal hygiene, general cleaning and how to prevent contamination. Their manual handling course taught them how to safely lift, lower, push, pull and carry items, which is particularly important in a small kitchen space.
While this was a slightly daunting task at first, all the men took to their studying and the eventual practice with great diligence. They all really enjoyed it in the end, especially working together as a team – learning from and helping one another.
Says Liam, “They’re all really nice blokes and decent guys so it’s easy to get stuff done when you’re working with nice people.”
What’s more, all of the volunteers received a Personal Achievement Award from Autism Together for completing their training. These awards are given internally and gained for achievements and learning new skills.
The team members have also completed their Environmental ASDAN award through various projects at the River Park, and they are currently completing their World of Work ASDAN with some opting for the Catering Assistant element and some choosing the Horticulture modules of the ASDAN award.
“At first it was a bit of a struggle for me, but once I got through the challenges they were really good. I learnt all about the health and safety of the kiosk, about what’s cross contamination and what’s not. I’ve found it really quite good.”
“I previously used to do voluntary work on a Saturday [in the cafe], just before lockdown which was good, so I’ve been helping everyone out… I enjoy doing that. So I’ve been showing everyone how to use the till and things like that. It’s nice to see customers back… and it’s nice to have people to talk to around the park again. Having the customers back’s been good.”
Liam said of his training
“Everybody’s been really reassuring and supportive. It’s a nice mix, really. If they show you how to do it, you just learn on your feet, really.”
Paul Baker, from Autism Together, says
“This has been a huge undertaking by the six lads from our River Park volunteer group and we’re so proud of all they’ve achieved. The more they work at the kiosk, the more confident they are and the more they are enjoying the challenge and the interactions with the public.
“Each of the team was thrilled to receive their Personal Challenge Certificates on completion of their training and it is to their credit and the staff who have supported them that they have done so well in this enterprise. It is also nice to see other people we support getting involved with the kiosk provision.”