Odyssey café

Odyssey is a long established Auckland not-for-profit organisation that helps people to overcome alcohol, drug and gambling addiction problems. In November 2016 they launched a work training programme at Odyssey café in New Lynn. It is a social enterprise that provides great food and coffee for the community and, at the same time, offers young people aged 16-24 years an eight-week training programme where they are supported to complete 10 Level 2 NZQA Hospitality credits. These are assessed by their tutor who has completed the NZQA assessment qualifications.

There were 21 participants recruited into year 1 of the programme which ran from December 2016 to November 2017. Of these, 12 graduated. Sixteen of those who participated (or 76 percent) went on to work, education or continued their treatment – a much valued outcome for both the participants and Odyssey.

The programme

Over 50 percent of the young people on the programme last year had some connection with Odyssey either as someone receiving treatment support or as a family member. Other agencies can refer too. The recruitment test is that they must have some personal barrier to employment. Most have experienced trauma of some sort.

When they are referred, Nicola Corney, Odyssey’s Living Well Programme Manager (and one of the trainers), meets with the young person to find out where the potential trainee is at and decides whether the programme would be a good fit for them. Often, when the young people come to the café, it is their first experience of being in a workplace.

Nicola, although a relatively recent appointment at Odyssey, is not new to this work. She has several years’ experience working in similar social enterprise cafés in the UK so she has a good idea of how the programme should be structured:

“In the first week we provide some induction training on health and safety, how to use the till and the basics of customer service. They might spend some time in the kitchen too, baking. Making a chocolate cake is a good way to boost their confidence! We don’t want to overwhelm them with information. We look for small wins. Then the next week they move on to making coffee. That takes time to master.

“They are at the café for two four-hour sessions a week and in the second week we start the unit standards. They do three: customer service, food safety and coffee making.

“Their ability varies but most of the young people have had a difficult experience at school and there are sometimes literacy issues. One young man, for example, left school when he was 13. He is in our residential treatment programme, which also has a small private school, so he can work on his literacy there. In his case, I acted as a reader/writer when it came to his assessment, and he was able to obtain his credits.

“I think the biggest challenge for our participants is learning how to speak to people who are not necessarily from their own background. Learning to make eye contact – just basic communication skills. So we start on the customer service units first.

“In every session after the first week we spend some time sitting down together, either in the café or in another room, working on the unit standards. There is practical work associated with each standard too. Towards the end of the programme we spend more time on the written work, getting them ready for the final assessment.

“What we are mainly doing is preparing them for being in a workplace – showing up, having the right attitude and building their confidence. Getting 10 Level 2 credits gives them a real boost and some trainees have gone on to university or polytechnic. For example, one young woman is now on a foundation course and plans a career in social practice, and one of the young men is working in a café and planning a career in audio production.”


Will Ward, Odyssey’s General Manager – Improvement and Development, says they gave themselves one year to see if the concept worked and he is pleased with the results:

“Physically you can see a transformation in the participants after being in the café for a couple of weeks. You can see a confidence. It is a safe space for them. The work experience at the café doesn’t mean that they need to set their sights on a hospitality career, but it opens up their mind-set for optimism and opportunity. They know they can complete a course and there are work and study options available to them. They develop problem solving skills and become much more motivated to achieve their independence.

“One of our challenges now is to make the programme more sustainable. We want to create more relationships with a whole variety of stakeholders so we can help young people find work and get the support that they might need. My experience is that most people want to work, and for some people having an option like the café is really helpful. At the end of it they have a certificate showing that they can achieve qualifications, have a reference from us and support from us also around creating a CV if they require it.

“Currently the programme is provided and fully funded by Odyssey. It is a commitment that our Board has made. But the café sales do not cover the full cost of the programme. We got start-up funding for the café from Foundation North, Joyce Fisher Trust, JM Thompson Trust and the Whau Local Board. As we continue our pursuit towards financial sustainability we will continue to seek grant funding and other support.”

Article from ACE Aotearoa Autumn Newsletter 2018.