The 180 Degrees Restaurant, which was on the brink of closure, served up afternoon tea for local businesses in a special event hosted by the Lord Mayor this week.
The ‘spread’ of mini sandwiches and tray bakes was prepared by staff, most of them young people with learning difficulties.
Representatives from around 10 firms in the local food and drink sector demonstrated their continuing support for the charity-run eaterie by turning up at Wednesday’s event.
It was organised by the Mayor, Councillor Darryn Causby as part of the NI Year of Food and Drink, and to celebrate the work of charity Step by Step NI and 180 Degrees.
Those attending included Angus Wilson of Wilson’s County and Jane Harnett of Harnett Oils.
Fiona Rowan, chairperson of Step by Step, said the 180 Restaurant was not asking the local companies for money but support, either by offering students a work placement or providing mentoring and expertise.
The Mayor said, “As well as providing quality food and drink, this restaurant is a shining example of how this borough is home to a caring, progressive community that provides opportunities for all.”
There was widespread dismay in March when the restaurant announced it was facing closure due to funding issues. Parents said it was “unique” and one of the few facilities locally to provide training for young people aged over 18 with learning difficulties.
The crisis led to a flurry of meetings with local politicians, MLAs, businesses and government ministers.
Ms Rowan said that although they had received no money what they had received was “an awful lot of support” and guidance in securing future funding.
She added, “We are applying for funding and are working with the council, the Southern Health and Social Care Trust (SHSCT), the Social Enterprise Unit and Southern Regional College (SRC).
“People are coming on board to offer assistance. Since all the publicity surrounding our possible closure, there is a lot more understanding of what we do.
“I am a great believer in things happening for a reason. We will be much, much stronger for what we have gone through.”
The 180 Restaurant is also working with another charity to develop a new training programme which will enable more young people to access the training available in the Portadown initiative.
In the past five years, more than 100 young people have completing their training at the restaurant, where profits are reinvested to helping them gain qualifications in the hospitality industry.