Tom puts out the call for a café stop

August 5, 2022

Tom Russell has just finished a day’s work at the Te Tuhi Training Café in Pakuranga working at the till, taking orders and baking a batch of almond friands.

He loves it. He loves it so much he wants other people with disabilities to come to the café and ask him or the trainers about whether it’s something they would like to do “because it’s a very good opportunity”.

Two years ago, Tom lost his job at Altus Enterprises in Auckland when the lockdowns did away with the need to refurbish Air New Zealand’s headphones. He had worked there for five years.

It turned out the pandemic provided the opportunity for Pakuranga’s contemporary art gallery Te Tuhi, Rescare Homes Trust and the University of Auckland’s School of Psychology to do something they had all been wanting to do – start a training café for people with intellectual disabilities.

Te Tuhi Executive Director Hiraani Himona says training cafés work well overseas but have been slow to take off in New Zealand. Te Tuhi launched at the worst possible time with repeated closures and low customer traffic to the gallery. But she is positive about the project. “It’s been a joy,” she says. “It’s hard, but this is what an art gallery should be doing. It’s filled our foyer space with activity and life and joy.”

She thinks many Aucklanders might see Pakuranga as being too far to go for coffee but, like Tom, she would love to see more of them in the café. The café is not making money and relying on grants and other funding to pay the staff – a cook and a barista – and the trainees. Te Tuhi received a recent grant from the IHC Foundation.

“I would love some more customers. We are 20 minutes by car [from central Auckland] and there is loads of parking.” The café is open six days a week from 9am to 2pm.

Each partner plays a specific role. Rescare selects and oversees the trainees and covers pastoral care. Te Tuhi runs the café and employs the trainers and trainees. The university’s School of Psychology staff have developed the training manual and troubleshoot where necessary, working out how to adapt training if someone is having trouble.

Dr Katrina Phillips, senior lecturer in the School of Psychology, says the project, Nga Mātauranga ōu Mahi, provides benefits all round – for the trainees, the community and for the university students involved in developing and studying the project.

“We used the idea or term ako – that idea of learning from each other. It’s the idea that everyone has something to give,” Katrina says.

Tom was one of the first trainees when the café opened in July 2020. He’s been working there ever since. He does some baking but prefers the customer-facing roles.

“I am more confident, absolutely. I like the customers to feel good about what we do.” Today was the second time he had made almond friands. “It took a while to remember how to do it again,” Tom says.

He’s comfortable on the till. “I am really good at my counting and maths.” His skills have led to other work too. Tom is employed at the Better Way container café at Drury on Fridays.

He says he is thinking about long-term goals now – perhaps trying some other kind of employment and a future with his girlfriend. “I really want to be living independently with my partner. That is my long-term plan. She is my blessing and my heart.”

Caption 1: Tom Russell works at Te Tuhi Training Café on Wednesdays, loving the connection with customers and staff.

Caption 2: Rachel Martin and Falefatu Carreras are building their skills at Te Tuhi. Rachel is aiming to be a barista.


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC membersRead the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.