Café culture helping young people with autism prosper

Michael Scott


Michael Scott


THE Gathering Rooms, run by Appleby Careers Project, is a project funded by the National Lottery Community Fund Empowering Young Peoples Programme, designed and led by a project team made up of young people with autism.

The vision for the project was to create an autism friendly space where young people with autism can train in work and social skills, get help and advice when they need it and a place where they, their families, young kids with autism and their parents can socialise.

The Gathering Rooms is based at 4 Vicars Hill, Armagh and includes two social enterprises - The Print Room, which specialises in the design and print of greeting cards and the The Eating Room, a cafe which welcomes all customers but particularly people with Autism.

The Café has been open now for three weeks and is slowly starting to build up a profile as somewhere calm and relaxing to come and enjoy beautiful food. All our sweet treats are baked in house and include tray bakes, scones, cakes and cupcakes all of which can be accompanied by freshly ground Segafredo coffee, we also serve wholesome bowls of soup, paninis, toasties and salads.

Our all day breakfast menu includes waffle and pancake stacks and sourdough toast, avocado and poached eggs.

The café offers a call and collect service for lunch orders as well as outside catering just phone 07785589928 or check out our facebook page theapplebygatheringrooms for more information.

Appleby Chairman Thomas O’Hanlon hailed the opening of the Gathering Rooms at Vicars Hill in Armagh as an important next step in providing supported employment opportunities for young people with Autism.

Mr O’Hanlon added, “The Gathering Rooms is an exciting project for all of us involved in the Appleby Trust.  

“It is a new venture, until now we have offered specialist print and design across our sites in Armagh, Banbridge and Lurgan so this project is really something new for us and new for Armagh.

“What is important about the project is that it is participant led.  The young people who use the service have helped design, shape and now run the project.  It gives them an opportunity to participate in the world of work in a sheltered environment and at the same time gain a qualification for their experience.

“I want to place on record by thanks to the National Lottery for funding the project, the Southern Health and Social Care Trust for their support and referrals, the young people who have helped shape the project and our own staff who have made that vision a reality.  

“I look forward to seeing the project grow and blossom in the years ahead.  If it great coffee and cake you’re after, The Gathering Rooms is the perfect spot.”

Supported by Autism Services in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust from inception through application to assessment, our project design has benefited from the expertise of those working with autism.

Peadar White, HoS CAMHS/ASD/RISE NI added, "The Gathering Rooms is a welcomed initiative between the Southern Health and Social Care Trust  and Appleby Trust and will ensure the delivery of person centred support and employment opportunities for young people with Autism."

Denise Carroll, ASD coordinator and operational manager of Autism Services said, "The Trust is fully committed to supporting young people and families with Autism and linking them to sustainable community networks.  I am delighted with this ongoing partnership initiative and look forward to working  together to deliver sustainable benefits for our children and young people."

Young people with Autism aged 16-25 can come and train in work and social skills with the support of dedicated staff, some front of house some in the kitchen, others working on greeting cards and learning about graphic design, how a business runs and how to manage social media. We also employ an Advice worker who can give advice on services, courses and guidance on whats available  and also keep our website up to date with information about whats happening locally that might be of interest.

Elaine Leonard, Company Manager, said “We are proud of our project and our young people and of our staff, old and new, who have worked tirelessly.

“If you are interested in being referred to the project please contact the main office on 02837 518211; Mark, the Project Manager, on 07785589928 or by emailing

“Interest can also be expressed through Autism Services at the Oaks on 028 3756 6777.”

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