Socially Enterprising: Fly Cup Catering

Today’s profile looks at a north-east group who’re training people with learning disabilities to cater for the culinary needs of people.

What’s the name of your company and who owns it?

Fly Cup Catering is a charity and company limited by guarantee. We are also a social enterprise and a growing social firm. We have a board of directors who are trustees of the charity, all are volunteers and have a range of experience including training, HR, trauma therapy and business management.

When was it set up?

Fly Cup Catering was established in 2000 by two men who have children with a learning disability.

What’s the company’s aim?

The charity was established to provide individuals with learning disabilities  with training and employment opportunities in the catering industry. We have a 30-seat coffee shop which is open six days a week where customers are served by trainees, supported by staff.

Each trainee is provided with a personalised programme which leads to Fly Cup certificates and the potential opportunity to complete food and hospitality NVQ units. We also work closely with statutory bodies and local employers to develop work placements for the trainees.

Fly Cup Catering accommodates 30 trainees each week, delivering 60 placement days. The ability of our trainees ranges from those who require one-to-one support, to others who work 80% independently.

What did you (Business Manager Denise Belshaw) do previously?

Fly Cup Catering is managed on a day to day basis by myself. After the birth of my son in 1990, I decided to venture into the third sector as a volunteer, giving my time to organisations which included young children and their families, mental health projects and a charity shop.

I soon recognised the difference that charities make to the lives of disadvantaged people. As a very keen amateur cook and baker I quickly became ensconced in the workings of the catering industry, but more importantly in the workings of the minds of the special people we work with. My life choices changed as I moved into the third sector and I have never looked back.

Why be a social and not a private enterprise?

There are enough private coffee shops and restaurants in the area. Fly Cup is different, we are supported by our customers not only for the excellent food that we serve but also because they can see the difference that we make to the social and economic lives of our trainees. We highlight the abilities, rather than disabilities, that our trainees have.

How many staff/volunteers – and what did they do previously?

We currently employ nine full-time staff team members, nine part-time members and eight volunteers. All our staff are titled ‘trainers’ because they are employed to support and teach the trainees to undertake tasks, from making sandwiches, soups, lunches and baking, to serving customers front of house.

Who are your main customers?

As a coffee shop our customers are members of the public, however our business lunches are delivered to small and medium-sized organisations, and local authority departments. We also provide catering for events and our fantastic playroom attracts parents and families.

Our bakery supplies tray bakes, tablet and other confectionery to stores and coffee shops in the area, and during the summer months we are delighted to stock the shelves of a local soft fruit grower.

Tell us about your best trading experience?

Recently we were asked by a local football team to provide a three-course dinner for their end-of-season presentation dinner. Before we served the food we explained that this was the first experience the trainees had had in function services. It was an excellent event, and the audience was very supportive and appreciative.

And the worst?

It wasn’t really a terrible situation, but last year we were asked to do a Pie and Pea event for a Yorkshire lady and her husband who were celebrating a wedding anniversary. The lady was very determined that the peas must be mushy peas, not too soggy or too dry. Having never made mushy peas before I set the kitchen to practising them. The first batch turned out like bullets, but after a bit of practise we had mushy peas galore.

The funny part was that despite making enough for 70 people I decided to take some ordinary garden peas along as well. The customer was delighted with the mushy peas but her guests were not so bothered, and all the garden peas went, but she was left with a large amount of mushy peas. She told me her husband would enjoy them though – so it all ended well!

And what are your future plans?

Fly Cup has become a well-established and recognised charity within the Aberdeenshire and surrounding area. In the past three years we have doubled in both customer base, trainee numbers and our staff numbers have grown proportionately.

Following a successful Comic Relief grant funding application, we extended our rental into the premises above our coffee shop, but we have now decided to raise funds to purchase and refurbish the building. A total of £750k is needed. Our fund-raising has begun and we’d like to encourage major grant funders, the community and businesses to become part of “Fly Cup Plus”!

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