South Shields cafe which employs staff with autism faces closure

Bryn and Nicole
Bryn Howard and Nicole Youngman make drinks and help serve food at the cafe

A cafe which employs people with autism and learning difficulties faces closure due to rising costs, the owner said.

Sea Change in South Shields has seen a 400% increase in energy payments, and received a £20,000 back-dated bill.

Owner Sarah Farrell-Forster, who set up the cafe five years ago, said: "Times were tough anyhow, but to receive this was another blow."

Employees have said they are "absolutely heartbroken" at the prospect of closure.

Mrs Farrell-Forster, from Sunderland, launched the cafe to offer jobs to people with disabilities.

She said: "It makes a massive difference to them because they feel safe here, they feel supported, a lot of them never thought they'd ever be in paid employment."

Sea Change staff
There is a chance the cafe could close in the summer if it cannot cover costs, the owner said

Sea Change's energy bills have jumped from about £300 to £1,100 a month.

The cost of ingredients has also risen. A block of cheese has gone up from £1.75 to £3, while a tin of beans has risen from 20p to 50p.

"It would be heart-breaking if we had to close," said Mrs Farrell-Forster, who has started an online campaign to save the cafe.

'Like talking to a wall'

Bryn Howard has worked at the cafe "since day one" and said he would be "absolutely gutted" if it had to close.

Nicole Youngman, who has been working at Sea Change for four-and-a-half years, said she would be "really, really upset" if the cafe was to close its doors.

She said: "I don't know where I would be without Sea Change.

"It would mean I'm out of a job and, at the end of the day, nowhere else will take people with disabilities.

"I've tried before and it's like talking to the wall."

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