Sid aims to serve up community fun at Stortfords new Wiggly Willow cafe
A coffee shop with a unique community ethos is set to open in Hockerill Street, Bishops Stortford.
The Wiggly Willow café in the former Mie Style boutique, on the corner of Crown Terrace, is the brainchild of special educational needs specialist Sid Perry.
She formerly worked at Grove Cottage, the London Road home of Mencap in the town, for more than five years and also has hospitality and catering experience after stints running a bakery and delicatessen and nightclub in the west country.
The 42-year-old former student at Margaret Dane secondary – now Birchwood High School – aims to combine her diverse skill set in the new project, which is set to open on March 1.
By day, her business will operate as a regular coffee shop, selling hot drinks, milkshakes, smoothies and mocktails as well as a range of sandwiches, cakes and cookies and hot snacks like filled jacket potatoes. She also plans to offer a delivery service to local residents and businesses.
She has already recruited an experienced staff of five, but also plans to offer work experience opportunities to people with learning disabilities.
During the day from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, she hopes the café will function as an information hub with a separate space available as a training facility where Sid, who is also a fitness instructor and amateur thespian, can share her signing and first aid skills. She plans leisure facilities like table tennis for young customers after school. The café will also open as usual from 10am to 2pm on Saturdays.
After hours, the innovations will begin with the emphasis on fun. From 6pm on Mondays, the café will be transformed into the headquarters of a new Makaton singing and signing choir for all. Sid is an expert in the language programme using signs and symbols to help people to communicate and each session will cost £4.
The café will also open as an activities and social club for members from 6.30pm to 9pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays with an afternoon session for members from 2pm to 5.30pm on Saturdays too.
Sid wants to provide a warm welcome and a full programme of activities for youngsters and young adults with learning difficulties. They will be able to sign up for an evening membership, for £20 per month, Saturday membership costing £25 per month or the gold standard combining both for £40.
Sid said: “Wiggly Willow is going to be trendy and fun.”
The evening sessions will be run by Sid and supporters, working as volunteers, and she is keen to recruit teens from the town who are working on projects like the Duke of Edinburgh Award to get involved too.
She is determined to remove any hint of institutionalising her customers. Her nephew, 16-year-old Jake Wilson, form Bishop’s Stortford has autism and Sid said: “I just want it to be a fun, trendy place for people with learning difficulties to be able to socialise with their peers.”
She has deliberately decided not to register her enterprise as a charity in the belief that it can succeed as a commercial enterprise and hopes to roll out her vision elsewhere.
Part of the project includes organising trips and holidays for members to the seaside and beyond.
Sid, who lives in Litte Hallingbury with husband of eight years builder Pete, said: “I have had masses of support from so many people because they know me and the work I have done and they know how passionate I am about this.”