Very positive news being received by users of the re-opened Hexham kiosk this morning by Journey Enterprises. The kiosk will be termed the 'Whistle Stop' and will be open Monday to Friday 7am-2pm.

A JOURNEY of a thousand miles begins with a single step, according to a Chinese philosopher.

For one Tynedale organisation, that very first step came 35 years ago when a group of parents joined forces to find activities for their grown-up children, all of whom had learning disabilities.

Angela Breen recalled: “They felt there was nothing for them to do when they finished school and college, so they set up their own charity.”

It was called ‘Forest and Gardens’ and it kept adults with additional needs busy, as the title suggests, doing forestry and horticultural work.

But as more people joined, bringing with them a variety of interests and skills, the offering grew to include wood working workshops and a bakery.

‘Daybreak’ was chosen as the group’s new title and it was so successful it was exported to other parts of the North-East.

Now ‘Daybreak’ has just celebrated its relaunch as ‘Journey Enterprises Ltd’, and there are exciting plans afoot at its Acomb hub.

Angela, who is manager there, said: “We wanted a name that would reflect our ethos of constant improvement and partnership.”

Development manager for Journey, Adam Bird, added: “At one time there was a low expectation of what people with additional needs could achieve, but now we recognise that our people can achieve fantastic things.

“For example, some want to get into work, but it’s quite hard to find a path to that. By providing them with experience, hopefully we will be able to get them further work placements or employment.”

One of Journey’s new initiatives gets under way on Wednesday, October 18 with the re-opening of The Whistle Stop kiosk on Hexham’s busy railway station.

They have successfully won the lease from Northern Rail via the Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership.

“We did a trial (at the kiosk) in February for a week and again over the Easter break for three weeks to see what the potential was, and now we intend to use it as a placement opportunity,” Adam said.

Elizabeth McGonnell is one of the clients who became a familiar face to commuters when she worked behind the counter earlier this year.

She said: “We had a good time and I learned how to do the till and we served our customers hot drinks.”

Travellers using the kiosk will be able to choose from a range of tasty treats delivered fresh from Journey’s Acomb bakery – an ongoing training facility for clients – including home-made shortbread, golden syrup flapjack and rocky road tray bakes, to name but a few.

So determined are they to get the quality right, they brought in the big bakery guns to help ensure the station’s kiosk has a first class menu.

Darren Mayne, who now runs his own consultancy, worked for Greggs and was drafted in by the charity’s chief executive, Mary Curran, to support the project.

“This is about putting Journey at the heart of the community,” said Darren. “But the Whistle Stop has to be financially sustainable as a business as well.

“So we have developed a whole product range for the grab-and-go customer. Journey knows there’s a lot of choice out there. What we’re hoping is, because 100 per cent of the profit will be reinvested back into the charity itself, the community who use the railway station will support us.

“This is life-changing for the people here, so people who buy their morning cup of coffee or tea from us can rest assured that they’re doing something really worthwhile.

“We want to be able to provide a quality product that people want to buy and we’ve put a lot of time and effort into identifying stand-out roasted coffee blends.”

Local people and businesses have also given their time freely to ensure the kiosk has a vibrant modern look.

The Whistle Stop kiosk is not the only public face of the charity. People working in the bakery at the Acomb hub supply a regular Tuesday market stall on Hexham Market with cakes and savouries and recently took part in the Taste of Tynedale food festival, where they sold out and raised more than £300. They also do outside catering.

Angela, who has worked at the Acomb site since 1996, explained how much pride her clients took in their work.

“At the Taste of Tynedale event, people were saying to customers, ‘I made this.’ When you have a pride in something, you want to talk about it.”

As well as the on-site bakery, Acomb boasts a training cafe providing clients’ lunches every day. Outside there are five raised beds and two polytunnels and the vegetables grown in those turn up on the menu.

“Out of the 70 people who come here, not everyone would want to work in the bakery or the kiosk, so it’s about supporting them in the best way we can and helping them achieve as much as possible,” said Angela.

So clients can also choose to get involved in the photography and drama groups or help produce The Inside Track, a regular magazine that they sell for 50p a copy.

According to Adam, only six per cent of people with additional needs are in paid employment in the UK, but Journey is setting up links with employers, including Costa, to try to change that.

As Darren observed: “There’s been a lot of stigma in the past about what people with additional needs can achieve and we need to re-educate people. Part of our job is to prove to other employers that our clients offer real value.”

* Whistle Stop will be open Monday to Friday 7am-2pm

(This article is produced from the Press Release forming a report in the Hexham Courant of 13/10/17)