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Students at Nescot celebrated the ten-year anniversary of their popular café in Ewell on Tuesday (February 25).

St Mary’s Church hall was packed with well-wishers, who enjoyed a special ‘birthday’ cake as well as the café’s usual menu of soups, sandwiches and sweet treats.

Students from Nescot’s Foundation Learning department, who make and serve the food each week, were joined by guests including the Mayor of Epsom and Ewell, Cllr John Beckett.

“It was a wonderful event, and a fitting way to celebrate an initiative that has helped and supported so many students over the years,” said Frances Rutter, CEO and Principal at Nescot.

The café was set up by Lynn Reddick, a former head of Foundation Learning who is now a college governor, together with tutor Mary Ayres and Rev Russell Dewhurst, then St Mary’s brand-new vicar.

Students prepare the food, welcome diners and take their orders, serve the food, take payments and then clear away and wash up.

The aim of the café is to give students with learning difficulties practical work experience, as well as helping them to learn skills including working to a deadline, customer service, and self-confidence.

Rev Dewhurst, who attends the café most weeks, said the initiative has helped to foster a strong relationship between the church community and the college.

“We all really enjoy getting to know the students, and seeing them change and grow in confidence over the course of the year,” he said.

“It’s great to see the café continuing to go from strength to strength, and I hope we can look forward to another ten years.”

Hilary Ashton, a member of St Mary’s who has been coming to the café since it opened, described it as a ‘wonderful idea’.

“It’s nice that the college is able to bring young people here to get lots of experience,” she added. “The food is very good, and it’s a nice social occasion.”

Tom, a student on the Employment Pathway programme, has been working in the café since September, and said it’s his favourite part of the week.

“I like meeting people and taking their orders,” he added. “I was quite nervous at first, but now I’m a bit more confident. I want to work in a café in the future, so this is really good experience.”

Nescot’s Foundation Learning department offers a wide range of qualifications aimed at helping students to reach their full potential.

Some of the programmes are aimed at students with learning difficulties and disabilities, and others are developed for young people who left school with few formal qualifications.