Although Lisa Cathro has moved mountains to help her staff at Zest café in St Andrews, she firmly believes they have done more to help her.
The social enterprise in St Andrews allows people with disabilities to join the workforce and learn valuable skills in a supportive, understanding environment.
“I have disabilities myself,” says Lisa, “which I didn’t realise at first.”
She has Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which affects her intermittently. She also has been suffering from Long Covid since June 2020.
“This means sometimes not being able to speak, or my brain conking out and not being able to think,” she explains.
“They then change up what they’re doing to support me.
“They will just come up to the till and say ‘you need to get off the till because you’re making lots of mistakes’,” she laughs.
Support at We Are Zest café saves lives
The support Lisa offers her staff at Zest makes a great difference not only to the confidence of her staff but also their wellbeing.
“Suicidal thoughts and attempts are more common than you may think,” Lisa says.
“We have supported people over the years with counselling, connected them with services and put extra support in place with no judgement.
“Without that support some of our team may not have survived.”
She adds: “We can have people struggling with ASD, severe depression, anxiety and self-harm.
“Sometimes this can be due to not having a proper diagnosis yet, not being on the correct treatment or medication, or having the right support in place.
“So we work with them in here and we try to find what they’re good at, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what disability adjustments they need.”
What adjustments are made at Zest café St Andrews?
“People always think that disability adjustments are expensive,” sighs Lisa.
But really, she says, there are simple – and often cheap or free – changes which employers can make to create a more inclusive workplace.
For instance, they have a Velcro menu board for the soup of the day where staff can stick the flavour label on, instead of worrying about their handwriting or spelling.
Lisa also provides earplugs to staff who are sensitive to noise.
Another no cost adjustment is that the till screen has also been changed to improve accessibility.
Lisa simply swapped it from a white background with black text to a black background with white text.
“A lot of times when you change something for the disabled staff, it makes it easier for everyone,” she says.
‘Most employers don’t want to help their staff to leave’
Lisa’s inclusive recruitment style at We Are Zest café allows for anyone to apply, no matter their disability.
Most employers dread the day a staff member tells them they are planning to move on to another job.
But Lisa is delighted when her staff share this news.
This is not because she wants to get rid of any of her staff, far from it.
Rather, she is delighted to know she has helped them along on their employment journey.
“It can take a few years but then when they don’t need us, they are able to leave and go something that they’re really passionate about.
“It’s a bit weird, I know,” she laughs, “most employers don’t want to help their staff to leave.
“But that’s the thing about having the culture here. I’ll know about a year in advance that someone’s leaving, because we’ll help them do it.”
Whether that is living alone, starting other jobs or starting university, Lisa is there to help her staff on their way.
She adds: “We want to support people to leave here – that’s a good outcome.
“It’s sad because you’re losing a really valuable member of staff.
“But it’s amazing to see them go through that journey. And they’re so far from where they were that they’re able to go out and do it on their own.
“If they don’t need our support, then that’s brilliant.”
If you are affected by issues in this piece, Samaritans are available to offer support day or night, 365 days a year.