Thornhill Park School

Thornhill Park School is an independent specialist school based in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear for pupils aged 4-19

Our mission is to work together inspiring, supporting, celebrating and equipping autistic and neurodiverse children, young people and adults.

We have developed an exciting and innovative partnership with Sunderland Minster which has resulted in us taking over the Minster Café . The café had closed during the pandemic and school leadership proposed that go into partnership with the Minster and run the café as a vocational learning experience.

Learners renamed the café ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ and it opened to the general public in June 2022 . The café has already been awarded 5 Stars from Sunderland Environmental Health following a routine inspection of the premises.

Pupils have been working towards their Food Hygiene certificate Level 1 & 2 during their time in the café as well as being able to work towards units of their vocational qualifications. Our pupils have also had embedded opportunities to develop functional Maths and English skills as well as developing their communication and interpersonal skills in preparation for transition beyond school.

Nadine Horton, Principle at Thornhill Park School, said

It’s a really exciting project for many of our older pupils who’ve missed out on work experience due to Covid. We were looking to rebuild our work placement partnerships after the pandemic, and the café at the Minster seemed a good opportunity because it had been closed for a while, and NEAS also has a shop just round the corner. Our pupils will get real-life employment opportunities and work experience.
As part of their individual learning programmes, some pupils will attend the café on a weekly basis. For some, it will support longer-term goals to pursue careers in catering, but for everyone involved, it will help develop interpersonal skills. I’m so passionate about specialist education and the key is to make learning real. This project does exactly that.

Our pupils have also had a hand in creating the cafe’s menu, which includes scones, soup, sandwiches, cakes, teas, coffees and soft drinks and will also be involved in preparing meals, customer service, and dealing with money. 

Sunderland Echo news story about the partnership with Sunderland Minster