A man is about to shake hands with a disabled man in a wheelchair. The concept of respect and assistance to people with disabilities in society

With August
already here, 2016 is no longer new. Here in Zest we hit the ground running with our refit & rebrand in January, and so far have continued as we mean to go on. What better way to celebrate the launch of our new website than with a new blog post!

[I’m going to keep saying we, but bear in mind as a new member of the team I had very little to do with any of it #teampride]

What struck me going from customer to colleague is just how much goes on behind the scenes. When I started I was vaguely aware that Zest made a point of welcoming those who faced barriers to employment, but had no idea to what extent. And again, this was only thanks to the large sign up alongside the menu boards. Like me, the average customer is unlikely to notice that in our team we have an offender, we have colleagues with learning disabilities, ASD, a wide array of mental illnesses. And it’s not a coincidence that you don’t notice. At Zest we provide all the necessary adjustments required for those facing challenges to thrive regardless.

Yes, legally every employer is required to provide all ‘reasonable adjustments’ to facilitate a safe and happy work environment for individuals with disabilities. But in reality? It is easier to hire someone else who will not require adjustments to begin with. It is easier not to provide the necessary and legally required adjustments at all which then leads to a difficult and stressful work environment which may push a disabled employee to quit of their own accord. Problem solved. No, it’s not legal, but it happens because very few people go on to report their employer. Why would you, when at the end of the process (which probably wont be quick), there’s every chance the atmosphere which was already pretty unpleasant will become downright hostile.

In contrast, Zest is a total breath of fresh air. Lisa (our lovely owner & manager of the Zest empire) goes out of her way to create employment opportunities for people from various walks of life who would otherwise struggle find work. She does so by fostering an atmosphere of acceptance understanding, making sure that every member of the team works to achieve the same goal. As this is such a major part of Zest life and we want to make sure it continues to be regardless of the coming of new faces, every once in a while we’re thoroughly schooled on disability awareness.

A few weeks ago Lee-Ann from Fife Council Supported Employment Service came in to talk tSupported employmento us after we’d shut for the evening. The tone was set as the session was declared a safe space, where anyone was free to contribute without judgement. We covered physical disabilities, learning disabilities, mental illness and everything in between. All were covered from the point of view of both colleague and customer and everyone was encouraged to share if they felt comfortable. The aim was to be honest and open with each other, providing necessary guidance to maintain the supportive Zest environment.

The session was incredibly eye opening for me as a first-timer. It is reassuring to know that now and in the future there is no need to hide anything regarding my health from my employer. A team that is open and accepting is much stronger, more willing to communicate and help each other. The session also changed how I will view customer interaction in the future. It served as a wake up call- you never know what is going on in someone’s life at any given moment. There are a million and one possible explanations for a single action. Why not give the benefit of the doubt and try to serve every customer with kindness and compassion?

All these factors brought together forms the image of what it means to be a Zest employee. Part of the job involves making coffee, tea, preparing food and of course doing the washing up. However another equally important part is as a coach; providing encouragement, understanding and guidance. In order to function as a team and provide the excellent service that we do, we have to understand and work with individual strengths and weaknesses.

This is what I wish I knew about Zest- what sets us apart from other coffee shops in St Andrews. [its worth noting that we’re also one of a handful of specialty coffee shops in the country!] There were many occasions when I wanted a coffee/quick bite to eat/neutral site for a possibly awkward first date, and struggled to decide between the many different coffee shops and cafes that St Andrews has to offer. Had I known that by picking Zest I would have simultaneously been supporting an establishment that gives back so much to the community, it would have been a no brainer. I mean, if you’re going to have a cup of coffee anyway, you may as well have one made from ethically sourced coffee beans, by a great barista who may otherwise be struggling to find/keep a job.

Part of the Zest charm is that anyone and everyone who steps through the door is welcome- customer or colleague. You can be whoever you want to be or even better- whoever you are, and we’ll love you for it. Of course you’re welcome to come in and see for yourself.

autismdisability awarenesssocially responsible business st andrewssupported employmentzestzest cafezest salad bar