A charity is planning to build a commercial bakery employing young people with severe autism.
Berkshire-based Prior’s Court School hopes the bakery will enable young people to build skills for life, while increasing employment for the number of people with autism. It is kicking off a fund-raising drive for the scheme next week.
The charity has worked with baking industry experts to research the scheme’s financial viability and the suitability of baking to the strengths, interests and needs of young people with autism. It said the bakery could accommodate a wide range of skills, and that young people responded well to practical, routine tasks and found baking and food preparation rewarding.
One of the experts the charity has worked with is Steve Fudge, from Dorset Village Bakery, who has given support, including contacts, attending building design meetings and securing donations for equipment.
“The strengths of baking are seen in the tactile experience of baking bread, that it is easy to understand and it relies on routine activities which can be established and learned,” he said. “There is a massive amount of joy in baking and that is experienced from a child through to an adult and across the whole spectrum of needs. Bread-making carries on throughout life and the experience stretches across society.”
The bakery, which will be led by a master baker, will make organic goods initially, sold to the local community, but Prior’s Court would like to secure national supermarket listings in future.
“We want to create a team of bakers with real skills and a product that tastes great,” said Prior’s Court chief executive Mike Robinson. “We want to challenge perceptions and raise the bar for autism employment.
"We work to unlock the potential of our young people by being ambitious in our aims and in the strategies we use to ensure they achieve in every area of their lives,” he added, “but this project is our most ambitious yet.”
An appeal is being launched at the London Stock Exchange on 14 November to raise funds towards the £350,000 cost of the initiative.
Prior’s Court School
Opened in 1999, Prior’s Court School offers specialist education and support to more than 80 young people aged from five to 25 years old. All have autism, severe learning difficulties and complex needs and may experience high levels of anxiety. Most are non‐verbal or have limited functional communication, said the school, adding that all face enormous difficulty coping with the world around them.