> Foxes Hotel in Minehead is a guest house like no other. Standing proudly on the seafront with a backdrop of Exmoor, it is the only training hotel in the UK for people with learning disabilities.
It’s unique in that it is a fully functioning – and extremely busy – hotel with paying guests, with an adjacent teaching academy for its students. Hotel manager Kerry Grigg explains: “Other colleges teach paper-based skills but this is a fully functioning hotel. It’s busy and it’s real. Our students achieve nationally recognised qualifications and leave with a level 1 NVQ in Hospitality, a food hygiene certificate, plus maths, English and ICT qualifications.
‘We also run an independent living course in conjunction with their other studies, teaching them how to look after themselves.”
The academy, which is rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, attracts students from across the country and has a high success rate of securing jobs. It has a partnership with Hilton and other organisations, and the college’s transition team helps students to secure employment in their home town on completion of their course.
“The employment climate is evolving and more doors are opening to people with learning disabilities, says Jordan Bradley, head chef and curriculum leader. “Times are changing. There are a lot more opportunities for people with learning disabilities. People are opening their eyes and realising their potential. They have some outstanding skills – a great work ethic, politeness, they are genuinely interested in the job and want to work hard.”
Students enroll for one, two or three-year courses, each getting a personalised programme, and also work three shifts per week in the hotel to gain vital work experience. The kitchen at the Foxes Hotel is a hive of activity and Jordan describes its style of cuisine as “modern British twists on classics”.
In addition to the regular restaurant menu, the hotel also hosts themed events such as seafood nights, making full use of the local bounty, and meze style evenings. The new Country Range Greek Style Natural Yogurt is a popular ingredient, along with Country Range tinned beans, pulses and vinegars.
“The Country Range Five Bean Salad features on our salad bar every day,” continues Jordan. “It’s a brilliant product. We also use the Country Range White Bread and Roll Mix to bake our own bread, and our breakfast offering includes Country Range Hash Browns and Baked Beans.” The skill set of individual students varies dramatically when they first arrive at Foxes.
“Some of them have cooked before whilst others have never set foot in a kitchen,” adds Jordan. “It’s challenging but extremely rewarding. “Our customers are very supportive. The customer care is fantastic – there is a lot of attention to detail. That’s the reason they come here.”