Café society extends provision for the deaf

A café at JDA’s north London headquarters, serving food and beverages prepared by unemployed deaf volunteers


Anne Senchal says the support of the Jewish Deaf Association has given her the will to live.

Mrs Senchal, 88, was born deaf. She turned to the charity for help after the death of her husband eight years ago.

Interviewed through an interpreter at the opening of the JDA’s Dcafé at its north London headquarters, she confided: “I would be lost without them. I tried to commit suicide twice because I felt so alone and isolated. Coming here has been fantastic for me.”

The café is serving food and beverages prepared by unemployed deaf volunteers, all of whom are non-Jews. It is also open to the general public.

Mrs Senchal applauded the idea. “I don’t go to synagogue because you can’t access what is being said — and in a regular café I find ordering difficult. People don’t understand you and they don’t want to try.”

The café’s staff  have undergone training including food hygiene and preparation, customer service and health and safety. 

Brinthan Nanthabalan, deaf community officer for JDA, hoped the experience gained by staff would help them into paid employment. 

Among the Dcafé volunteers is Ella Burke, who said: “I love serving people and preparing the food. It is a great place to work because we all share the same thing. 

“There are no barriers to communication here and they see me as Ella before they see me as a deaf person.”

Ann Hart, 77, expected the café to become a regular meeting place for her and her friends, as well as somewhere she can get involved in activities such as workshops on how to use social media. “I don’t feel safe on the internet,” she said. “But it would be nice to stay in touch with my family. I am so proud of my son who uses Facebook and I want to use it to talk about him.”

Mr Nanthabalan explained: “The idea is that they come to the café in the morning and find out about events they can get involved in later on.

“Every Tuesday afternoon there will be deaf-led events. This will include an employment hub provided by the Royal Association for Deaf People.”

Lisa Etheridge, a British Sign Language user and yoga teacher, has devised an afternoon yoga class for Dcafé clients.  

“As you can imagine, there are very few yoga classes that are accessible to deaf people. I wanted to change that and make it something they can enjoy,” she said. 

For Harold Fallman, 88, who has been coming to JDA since he was 16, it promised an extension to his social life.

“If I didn’t come here I would be very lonely,” he said. “I am really excited about coming here to have lunch in the new café with my friends.”

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