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Delivering Creative Cafés in Special Schools

Creative Café is a half-day interactive event designed to support young people to network and connect with employers. Set up café style, with a ratio of one employer to 6-10 young people, the Creative Café is organised around a menu of activities that provide insights for young people into different worlds of work.

As part of the Careers and Enterprise Company funding received through the East Sussex Careers Hub Virtual Wallet, we delivered Creative Cafés to two special schools in East Sussex – The Lindfield School, and Hazel Court FE College – in the spring of 2019.

Culture Shift is committed to improving lives through creativity and the arts, particularly for individuals and communities facing disadvantage.

This year has seen us scale up the delivery of our Creative Café Careers Programme, as a result of funding received through the Careers and Enterprise programme. We have delivered 25 Creative Café events across East Sussex, engaging 2000 students and more than 200 professionals. Students have included Year 7s to Year 13s and we have worked in mainstream and special schools. The following case study throws a light on two events at The Lindfield School and Hazel Court FE College.

Tailoring the event to the needs of the students

We set out to find out more about the students at Hazel Court and the Lindfield School, through discussions with senior staff. We discussed students’ specific needs and areas of interest, and talked about the space available to run the Café events in each school. As a result of these conversations, we adjusted the structure of the events, tailoring them to best suit the students.

Engaging the right contributors

In the run up to the events, in addition to searching our database of local employers, we drew on our extensive connections in the learning disability support sector to find the most appropriate organisations to contribute. We decided to look beyond approaching just local employers, to investigate options post-school more broadly, to include supported employment, volunteering and further training.

In the end, we were delighted with the range of professional contributors we were able to bring on board.

At Lindfield School we had six contributing organisations. These were:

  • Bird Aid, a gull rescue charity, that provides supported volunteering opportunities for young people
  • Jack Roberts, a freelance rugby coach with lived experience of dyslexia and special school education.
  • Chalk Farm Hotel, a business in East Sussex offering supported employment opportunities and training in the hospitality sector
  • Plumpton College, a local FE college providing supported training and internships amongst other courses in agriculture and animal husbandry
  • Wright Flow Technologies a local engineering firm
  • Project Search, a supported employment programme offering work experience and internship opportunities through Eastbourne Hospital

At Hazel Court we were joined again by Project Search and Chalk Farm Hotel, and in addition we were joined by a manager and project intern from Amazing Futures Project, part of Amaze Sussex. This project also provides supported training and internships so was highly appropriate to Hazel Court’s students.

At both events, the attendance of project interns who were able to talk about their experiences attending special schools, and then going on to supported internships and in some cases paid employment, was very much appreciated by teachers and students alike.




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Creating the best student experience

Both Cafés were facilitated by Culture Shift’s Director Julia Roberts, who has many years’ expertise in the disability and learning disability arts sector. She was able to pitch the facilitation at the right level for the students’ communication and attention needs, whilst ensuring that the event was creative, inspiring and enjoyable for all involved.

Creative Cafés are usually run as high-energy events to make them exciting and inspiring for the students. In the case of Hazel Court, we took our cues from teaching staff at the school, concentrating on keeping the tone level and calm, rather than high energy, as this was what the students needed to participate.

Tailoring the creative challenge to the needs of students

At the core of the Creative Café is the creative challenge that the students undertake with the employer. In the case of the special schools, we supported contributors to develop creative activities which would be exciting, accessible and inspiring.

For example, Project Search gave the students a challenge of sorting through a requisitioning order for hospital equipment.

Chalk Farm Hotel taught the group to lay a table for service, as in a hotel, and to prepare folded napkins, a task which the students relished.

Meanwhile, the engineer from Wright Flow Technologies set the students a series of engineering challenges to be completed using Lego.

Feedback from schools, students and employers

Teaching staff at both schools were delighted with the events and felt their students had benefitted from attending. As the Assistant Head at the Lindfield School told us:

We would like to say a huge thank you for all your organisation and finding really appropriate employers who really engaged the students actively within their sessions.  Our students and staff absolutely loved the workshops and we feel they were a real success.


Students from Lindfield School were supported in tutor time to respond to a series of evaluation statements. These are similar to the evaluation statements we use across the Creative Café programme, but had been revised to ensure accessibility.

The results were as follows:

  • 76% of students told us they enjoyed the event
  • 72% of students felt more positive about jobs and opportunities that might be available after school and college
  • 86% of students enjoyed meeting new people
  • 82% of students enjoyed working with other people

At Hazel Court, questions about enjoyment of the event, meeting new people and working with others were answered on the basis of a sample of students’ views and on staff advocacy based on their observations on the students’ engagement and participation.

The question about feeling more positive about the jobs and opportunities that might be available after school and college was asked of the 10 students for whom it was most appropriate. In any case, feedback was 100% positive for all questions.

Employers and interns were similarly enthusiastic about the events. The Project Manager at Project Search felt that the event had been successful in:

Being able to demonstrate first-hand other roles that are available – not the preconceived idea of doctors and nurses that work for the NHS. Students were really surprised about the range of roles and jobs available.


One of the Project Search interns told us that the most useful aspect of the event for her was, ‘meeting all the pupils and finding out what they want to do when they leave school.’

Culture Shift is deeply committed to providing good quality careers information and advice to all students, including students with special educational needs. We are keen to deliver more Creative Café events in Special Schools, in Sussex and perhaps even further afield.