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New autism-friendly cafe to open on Mall in Armagh providing social venue and training

Development to open on site of old Gilpin's sweet shop fondly remembered by generations of Armagh school children

Rokeby Green Armagh

A new cafe – aimed at providing training and a social outlet for young people with autism and special needs – looks set to open on the Mall in Armagh.

The development has been earmarked to be located at numbers 1 and 2 Rokeby Green.

The site has had many uses over the years but most recently for office purposes, although Armagh folk of a certain age will remember it more fondly as Gilpins shop, a popular haunt for generations of school children, long since gone.

But the idea of being served up sweet treats again – and serving up a fantastic opportunity for training and advice and guidance – would be a welcome change of use.

The development would see eight jobs being made available on site if given the go-ahead.

Located next door to the Mall Presbyterian Church Memorial Hall on Mall West, the hope is now to open a new cafe on premises which the letting agent had described as “oozing character and charm”.

A planning application for the cafe – in the name of Appleby Career Project – has been submitted to Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council for consideration.

The Appleby Career Project is based in the Armagh Shopping Centre at Thomas Street, from which it already runs the successful ‘Print It’ venture.

The National Lottery awarded a huge sum to the Appleby Trust last December for its ‘Gathering Rooms’ project.

Funding to the tune of £498,240 will support young people in the Southern Health Trust area with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

They are taking part in activities and training at the project’s two social enterprises to improve their practical and social skills in a supportive environment.

The Print Room will train the young people through design and graphic design to create hand-crafted greeting cards.

The Eating Room will be an autism-friendly café, and a community space where families can get information on autism services. Young people sit on a committee to help manage their project.

Speaking last December, Elaine Leonard, Company Manager of The Appleby Trust and Appleby Careers Project, said it would “impact on so many lives, not just on the lives of the young people taking part but on families with younger children with autism, and other young adults with autism”.

She said they will “use the café as a place to socialise and to get advice and guidance about services”.

SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon, who sits on the Appleby board of directors, said: “Autism isn’t new, but thankfully there is a growing understanding of the needs of those with autism and indeed their families.

“This facility will not just be autism friendly, but it will be a training facility for those with autism as they prepare for the world of work. It will give them and their families hope for the future. Our services support those a learning disability to those on the autism spectrum. This is a fantastic new addition to the work we do.

“Our work places the training of young people at the centre of everything we do and builds them as citizens who can play a full and active role in society.”

The new development covers the whole of numbers 1 and 2 Rokeby Green, with plans for kitchen and customer seating – as well as disabled toilet provision – at ground floor level.

The first floor would also provide customer seating area, as well as office accommodation and toilets.

The proposals are due to be publicly advertised this week and a decision expected in the not-too-distant future.

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