A PEEBLES-based charitable social enterprise is helping adults from across the Borders to take the first steps towards a career in hospitality.

The Food Foundation is offering free training that enables students to gain certificates in six modules through e-learning, as well as practical experience in a busy, professional kitchen.

The training is aimed at people with disabilities and those with mental health issues, and offers them personal and vocational development.

Those taking part benefit from increased confidence and self-esteem, and leave with a portfolio highlighting their achievements.

Via the e-learning platform, the students can study modules in Customer Care, First Aid Awareness, Allergen Awareness, Health and Safety, Food Safety and Working in the Kitchen.

The e-learning package is endorsed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and the Institute of Hospitality.

On completion, the students go on to put their theory-based learning into practice in the Food Foundation kitchen,

Co-ordinator Yvonne MacLaren said: “Our hope is that the programme opens up doors to further learning or employment for those who take part.

“We offer people a structured placement in a friendly environment that can give them invaluable experience of work and as working as part of a team, as well as gaining qualifications.”

Courses run for 16 weeks on a rolling basis, so there are always new positions coming up.

“We can offer a safe environment for people to promote and enhance their health and wellbeing,” added Yvonne.

“As well as the e-learning modules and practical experience, our courses can help people to develop problem solving and coping strategies, enhance their motivation and give them the chances to make lasting friendships and feel part of their community.”

The Food Foundation takes referrals from a range of organisations including those working with people who have a physical or learning disability, mental health services and social work. Individuals can refer themselves, or their parents and carers can do it.

It generates income through its specialist outside catering business and relies on grants and fundraising to cover its costs.

The Food Foundation supplies soup, sandwiches and cakes to local cafes, the Eastgate Theatre and Cocoa Black in Peebles.

It also provides hot lunches for the RVS Social Centre in the town.

Galina MacNeacail is one of the students currently whizzing through the modules, with support from tutor Ronnie McCudden.

She started at the Food Foundation last year, before leaving to go to college, and came back again to complete the course.

Galina said: “I like sitting the exams best.

"I’ve passed three modules so far and looking forward to doing the rest. I enjoy it and I am looking forward to working in the kitchen next.

“I learned to travel on the bus on my own to come here and go back home and I enjoy feeling independent.”

Sandra Stoke was busy working through the e-learning programme on her first day as a support volunteer, having previously volunteered in the kitchen.

“I like doing something different,” she explained, “and I am really looking forward to working with the students. It’s a very friendly place to be, and there is a nice, relaxed atmosphere.”

Galashiels-based Momentum Skills, which offers a range of return to work programmes for people with disabilities and young people, has been working with the Food Foundation to identify opportunities for their clients.

Catriona Strivens of Momentum Skills explained: “The Food Foundation offers a great chance for some of our clients to undertake training and develop their skills in a catering environment. We are keen to refer individuals who would benefit from the training on offer, or from supporting the students there.”

Student Nicola Roebuck from Galashiels already has two certificates and was referred to the programme by Momentum.

“I come along to the Food Foundation three days a week and I am enjoying it very much,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of catering and I would really like to become a chef.”

Also helping the students is volunteer Jean Gray from Peebles, who also found out about the Food Foundation from Momentum.

She said: “I was delighted to volunteer to help out.

"I have a legal background, so this is something completely different for me and I am enjoying every minute. It’s even encouraging me to cook!

"This is a wonderful opportunity for the students, who can work at their own pace with no pressure.”

Anyone interested getting involved with the Food Foundation can call 01721 722421 or e-mail placements@thefoodfoundation.scot