YOUNG people with learning disabilities have teamed up with four top chefs to prepare and serve a fine dining experience for hospitality leaders from across the South West. The dinner took place at the four-star Castle Hotel in Taunton with students from Minehead's Foxes Academy helping out.

Foxes Academy is a hospitality and catering training hotel for young people with learning disabilities and featured in Channel 5's The Special Needs Hotel last year.

The event enabled hospitality employers to experience the untapped talent their industry badly needs; a sector that is predicted to create more than 500,000 jobs in the next five years.

Workers with learning disabilities form a readily available employment group as one of the many hurdles they face is a far higher than typical unemployment rate – it stands at just 5.8 per cent for paid work. By stark contrast 73 per cent of Foxes’ leavers over the past three years (2015 to 2017) entered employment.

At the event employers were asked to pledge work opportunities and sign up to the Government’s Disability Confident programme.

The Castle’s head chef, Liam Finnegan has encouraged the Foxes' students by offering work experience placements and taken on a Commis Chef with learning disabilities who trained in the hotel’s kitchen to NVQ Level 2 and was awarded ‘Outstanding Individual’ as part of Adult Learners’ Week.

The starter was prepared under the watchful eye of Philip Corrick, executive chef and Howard Bisset, head chef both with The RAC Club, while Liam worked with the students to cook the main course and Werner Hartholt, resort development chef at Butlins supported them to prepare dessert. All chefs kindly donated their time and ingredients to raise awareness with their peers about the economic and cultural benefits of employing a diverse team.

Welcome drinks were generously provided by Exmoor’s Wicked Wolf Gin and Quantock Brewery.

Minister for disabled people, health and work, Sarah Newton, said: “We want to see one million more disabled people in work by 2027, and it’s crucial that the hospitality industry is not missing out on the skills, talents and personal qualities disabled people can bring to the workplace.

“This event goes to show that there is a huge pool of talent out there, and I urge all employers across the industry and beyond to help ensure the opportunities are there for everyone to reach their full potential.”