Queen Alexandra College (QAC) is a national residential college that supports a diverse range of student abilities and needs. We chat to Sarah Caldwell, fundraising and grants manager at QAC, and Nicola Coleman, hospitality tutor, to find out more about how their café and training kitchen helps students develop their cookery skills.
1. Tell us more about the Queen Alexandra College (QAC) and your students
Queen Alexandra College (QAC) is a national, residential College that supports a diverse range of student abilities and needs. Based in Birmingham we support around 300 students, aged between 16-25, all of whom have at least one disability although many have more than one to overcome, including sensory, learning and physical disabilities. We offer an innovative, holistic approach to learning and support that enables our students to develop a range of skills to help them live and work as independently as possible.
A couple of years ago we introduce our QACafe, featuring a range of industrial standard equipment and home to our LEAP Hospitality students.
2. Can you describe a typical day for students in the QACafe.
LEAP Hospitality students use the QACafe on a regular basis to run events, host visitors and serve customers from across the college.
The café runs like a typical café you would find on a high street. When students arrive to their sessions, they are each given a job to do and have to work together as a team to set up the café ready for the day. Jobs include preparing food, serving customers and clearing tables, and students take on each role in different sessions. It can be a busy place with some students ensuring tables are clean, sugar pots are filled and tables are set up ready for the customers, and others preparing food such as making fruit pots, portioning cakes and making paninis.
3. How do you find students benefit from working in a realistic environment?
All of our students benefit from an engaging teaching style and the QACafe offers a realistic environment where they are able to learn and develop new skills at their own pace. The practical activities mean students are supported in a way that enables them to learn the skills required to work in the hospitality industry in an environment that they feel comfortable in. This gives our students the transferable skills they need to be able to gain employment and the confidence to be able to do so.
Our training kitchen and QACafe is run under environmental health, which means students are expected to follow hygiene and food safety standards. When students take part in work experience at external employers, they already have existing knowledge of food hygiene which gives them a greater understanding of what is expected of them.
QACafe customers include internal staff and students and we also take bookings for afternoon tea events for some of our external contacts. The afternoon tea events have been very successful and students enjoy baking cakes, preparing sandwiches and serving our guests – it’s great to watch them put a bit more effort in when customers are people they don’t know!
4. What hands-on activities do students get to take part in?
In addition to the QACafe, we also have a fully functioning training kitchen, which students use to develop their cooking skills. Each learner has different skills they need to develop and we ensure that students are given the opportunity to practise those skills in a safe environment.
The Hospitality programme covers different units with different objectives required. We have 13 students in the group this year and they can all be working on different objectives/units, so no two practical session are the same. Some students will spend a session learning how to bake a chocolate cake, while the next session some students would be preparing spaghetti bolognese for their lunch.
During QACafe sessions, although staff are there to support the sessions they are very much led by the students – welcoming and serving customers and preparing the food. If we host special themed sessions, the students have to work together to look at options and decide what they can offer on the menu.
5. How do you use the magazine in class?
Students use the magazines to generate ideas for baking and decorating activities. They take turns to look through the magazines and discuss what recipes they would like to try baking themselves. The magazines are particularly useful when we are working on units that cover activities such as cakes and bread, as they give a lot of different ideas for them to try – some students even take different recipes and come up with their own ideas of what to bake which is great.
We had great fun just before half term as part of our QACBakes event for Baking Week. The group looked through the magazines for some recipes to try and then got to work. We had cookies, traybakes and cakes galore coming out of the ovens, which smelled amazing. One of the students (pictured) went on to win runner-up in the College wide competition too, which was great!