The Full Story
A small group of local like-minded people were frustrated by the lack of opportunities for adults with learning disabilities to get paid jobs. So, we got together to do something about it. We decided to open a community cafe in Yatton, and the derelict building on platform one of Yatton station seemed like the ideal spot.
How did a small group of people with a big idea transfer an old railway building into the bustling cafe that it is today? This is our story.
How did we get here?
We developed our premises with funds from the South West Regional Development Agency. We also got other grants to restore the building and set up the café. As a team, we raised £240,000 between 2006 to 2010 to restore the building.
Yatton station is on the mainline to London from the southwest with around 85 trains stopping here every day. Yatton used to connected the Cheddar Valley branch line to the mainline. It was nicknamed the Strawberry Line because it brought locally-grown strawberries from farms around Cheddar to be sold in the London markets. The Strawberry Line is now a popular walking and cycling route.
Who Are We?
The Strawberry Line Café is a not-for-profit business, or Community Interest Company (CIC). This means that we’re independent, run by unpaid directors and by our staff. We exist to give real, paid jobs to adults with learning disabilities, and two of our staff have learning disabilities. We also offer short term work experience. Any profits that we make go back to the café to create more training and employment opportunities.
On platform one of Yatton station, our café is in an old Great Western Railway building designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. We make our food from scratch on-site as much as possible using locally-sourced ingredients. This gives our trainees great opportunities to learn, supports local businesses, and minimises food miles.
When train track was being laid 20 years ago, a water pipe supplying the toilets on platform one was accidentally severed. It couldn’t be repaired without stopping the trains, and so the building was taken out of action. Over the years, it stayed empty and deteriorating until 2006 when the Strawberry Line Cafe project came along and asked if they could lease it.
The Strawberry Line Café project was started by a learning disabilities charity. The venue was ideal for training people who relied on public transport. There was local support for bringing the building back into use. So, we set up a community steering committee. It soon became clear, though, that restoring the Victorian listed building was not going to be quick, cheap or easy.
There was no connection to mains water, drainage or sewage. The electricity supply was poor, too. We started funding raising in vain. But our luck changed when our director found us an independent fundraising project manager and he helped secure us £218,000 pounds from the South West Regional Development Agency and The Railway Heritage Trust.
The restoration project was tough and expensive. We wanted a café where people with learning disabilities could train and work. We wanted a commercial standard kitchen. And we wanted it to be here, on this windy station platform, in this building which needed complex work signed off by railway heritage and listed buildings planning consent.
But it was worth the hard work. We now have a beautiful, quirky little café. But we also have a fantastic community. People love railways and what railways represent. We have regular steam nights where a speaker comes and talks about historic and current engines and lines. We have customers who remember their grandfathers working on the trains, and people tell us their stories and bring pictures and railway artefacts for us to hang up on our walls.
We have a diverse range of stakeholders. We have the Brief Encounter romance of it all – the Torbay Express which packs the cafe out for early morning glimpses of summer Sunday steam. We have grateful passengers from delayed and cancelled services taking shelter. And we have the incredible value of employing young adults with learning disabilities.