Hayes & Harlington Gazette

Sadness as council cuts funding for ‘lifeline’ café


- By JOSH BOLTON josh.bolton@reachplc.com @mylondon

A CAFé in West London staffed by people with autism and learning disabiliti­es will close after its funding was cut by the council.

The Rural Tea Room was run as a training café by Hillingdon Autistic Care and Support (HACS), providing autistic employees and learners with a place to build their confidence and skills.

Kate Newns said her 27-year-old daughter Kirsty, who works at the café and has autism, was devastated when she was told she would be made redundant at the end of March.

Kate, 55, said: “Kirsty has had a few other paid jobs but none that have last more than a few weeks. She’s also done a lot of volunteeri­ng but this was the first paid job she’s really been able to thrive in. She’s a valued, paid member of the team and that’s done wonders for her and her confidence.”

The café has two neurotypic­al staff and three neurodiver­gent staff members while many more learners with autism come in on other days,

Kate said. “The place is a life line to a lot of people. It’ll mean a lot of people won’t get that experience of working in a café, making food and drink, interactin­g with customers. It’s so helpful to so many people,” she added.

HACS was one of a number of charities and voluntary organisati­ons that have seen their grant reduced by Hillingdon Council. It was therefore decided that the Rural Tea Room will close for good on March 25.

A statement from HACS said: “Following notificati­on from London Borough of Hillingdon that we will no longer receive voluntary sector grant funding for the Rural Tea Room, the café will be closing on Saturday March 25, 2023, at 3pm.

“The Rural Tea Room has provided work-based learning and supported employment opportunit­ies for young people and adults with autism and learning disabiliti­es since 2014.

“We would like to take this opportunit­y to thanks all of our loyal patrons who have supported the café over the last eight years.

“A very special thank you to our staff and learners who have worked so hard to make the Rural Tea Room a much-loved community asset in Hillingdon.”

Kate added that it is not just the staff and learners who are losing out as a result of this news, but also local residents.

She said: “It’s a beautiful setting, it’s such an asset to the borough. Yes it’s run by people with autism so many people go there daily, one woman in her 80s goes there everyday for hot drink and it means she can socialise and not put the heating on. It’s a real shame for everyone.”

Hillingdon Council said: “The present financial climate has required the council to make changes to its grants programme, which for 2023/24 will continue to support the voluntary sector in Hillingdon with funding totalling more than £1.6 million, which is amongst the most generous in west London.

“As part of this process difficult decisions have had to be taken and a number of charities and voluntary organisati­ons have seen their grant reduced.

“HACS will continue to benefit from a council grant of £40,000 to deliver their valued community services.”

The Rural Tea Room was one of many ways the HACS charity supports people with autism in the borough. It was founded in 1997 by a group of parents and carers will continue to support over 1,000 people through its other work.

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 ?? FACUNDO ARRIZABALA­GA ?? Staff members Kirsty Lavender-Newns and Debbie Harte at the Rural Tea Room
FACUNDO ARRIZABALA­GA Staff members Kirsty Lavender-Newns and Debbie Harte at the Rural Tea Room

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