No cheese toasties or jacket potatoes on this menu.
Those popping in for a bite to eat at The Hidden Gem cafe can browse a menu of gourmet delicacies that include ham hock, pan fried smoked cod loin, salmon quiche, welsh rarebit and eggs florentine.
Not bad for a charity-run cafe.
That’s right, The Hidden Gem is run by staff and volunteers from Work Ltd - a Sheffield charity that provides life skills and occupational training for those with learning disabilities. Now in it’s 21st year, the charity’s premises, at Bents Green, has just undergone a major refurbishment, closing its cafe doors for three months while the staff, local community and generous local businesses teamed up to perform a northern DIY SOS.
“We’ve honestly been overwhelmed by people’s generosity,” reveals centre manager Glynis Philliskirk.
“When we first started talking about a renovation, we contacted several builders for quotes, which were coming in at around £18-20,000, which is such an overwhelming amount to try and raise. Our luck changed when a local couple, Tracey and Lee, contacted us to say they’d do the work for free; we just screamed with delight.
“Lee also recommended people we could try who might offer us deals on all the building materials. Everyone we spoke to either said they’d do it at cost, half price or free. We’ve had over £40,000 of work done since Christmas and only had to pay out about £5,000.”
The cafe - where students from Work Ltd work as waitresses and front desk staff, and where they also display and sell various textile items they’ve created - was only just making ends meet when, two years ago, head chef Scott came onboard. The Sheffield chef, who’d previously worked at The Cross Scythes pub in Totley, made some big changes, overhauling the menu and opening up the cafe on Saturdays. Word of the new eaterie soon spread and, before the charity’s staff knew it, their little cafe had won an Eat Sheffield awards and was being rated one of the top places to eat in the city.
“It was just incredible,” reveals Glynis, who has worked at the charity for 18 years.
“It was at that point that we realised, if we wanted the cafe to be able to grow and expand and support the charity as it had the potential to do, we needed to invest some serious money in fixing it up.
“We had three chefs and all of our volunteers working out of a kitchen that was no bigger than 5ft wide. And our cafe, although quite lovely, was laid out over several rooms and areas and felt quite disjointed.” Glynis and her team began making plans for an overhauled cafe that would attract footfall and shine a light on the important work the charity was doing. And that’s when they received some exciting news. Work Ltd was named Sainsbury’s Charity of the Year, and the supermarket agreed to work with the charity to raise the money needed for the build.
“That was all we needed,” Glynis says simply.
“Work began on vastly extending our kitchen and opening up the dining area by taking down two walls, so it’s easier to move around. We have beautiful tiling on the floor and amazing brickwork. All of the furniture is recycled and our wonderful students have made the natural wood tables, so their stamp is on it.
“We also have a dedicated sales area, where people can browse and buy our students’ fantastic items - everything from decorative knick knacks and pottery, to prints and hand-weaving.
“None of this would have been possible without the support of the local community, we’ve had volunteers and professionals giving up their time and skills to make this possible and we’ll never be able to thank them enough, this has been a real local DIY SOS story.”
The cafe reopened on March 14 and the future is now looking bright for Work Ltd. The charity welcomes 80 students a week through its doors and, with the cafe attracting more people to their small community than ever before, Glynis says the atmosphere is electric.
“The progression on the student side is amazing - their skills and enthusiasm feed the cafe and the cafe’s footfall and finances feed back into the charity which supports the students, it’s a wonderful relationship.
“We now have the money to employ dedicated tutors for the students, who work with them on creating amazing items to sell on in the cafe’s shop.
“They’re also working in the cafe learning skills, which is what this is really all about. Work Ltd doesn’t simply provide skills, it changes lives and we see that in our students every single day.”
WHAT THE PUBLIC THINKS:
The charity cafe is currently ranked #8 of 1,275 Sheffield restaurants on TripAdvisor.
It has 115 community reviews, nearly all giving a 5-star rating.
‘It’s a really quirky place with a feel good factor,’ said RoseB, who was visiting from London.
‘The coffee was excellent and the food was all cooked perfectly. Staff professional, pleasant and just like your best friends. I love this place - it’s a REAL hidden gem - please don’t go as otherwise there will be no room for me!!!’
MadHenLady, of Hope Valley, added: ‘We have been visiting this place for many years and it’s always excellent. I love what they do at the charity - the items for sale are amazing and I never leave empty handed.’