Yellow Submarine staff and apprentices cheer outside the cafe

Yellow Submarine logoYellow Submarine runs a variety of projects across Oxfordshire for young people with mild or moderate learning disabilities and autism, and provides apprenticeships in two social enterprise cafés.

From holidays to work prospects

Yellow Submarine had a strong track record of helping teenagers transition into adulthood, having started by running holidays away for young adults with learning disabilities. However, founder Toby Staveley wanted to do more to address the fact that fewer than one in five people with a learning disability work – whilst at least 65 per cent would like to, for much the same reasons as everyone else – it provides us with a sense of purpose and is an important part of our identity. A job can make people with learning disabilities feel useful and worthwhile; become more independent; and engage them with their community.

Yellow Submarine set out to remove the obstacles to getting into work – giving people with learning disabilities and employers alike confidence in their abilities. They decided significantly scale up their services by opening a new social enterprise in Oxford city centre: a café that gives young adults with learning disabilities work experience, as well as selling delicious sandwiches, cakes and coffee to local office workers and shoppers. They have since received rave reviews in the local press and on TripAdvisor endorsing the quality of their food and service.

Unlike with internships or traineeships, the 18-month apprenticeships provide full employment rights and a weekly salary. This have proved to be totally transformative for the individuals, all of whom have gone on to gain full-time employment in other local catering and food businesses.

Seed funding for a great idea

OCF provided Yellow Submarine with their first ever grant, or as their founder calls it, “a vote of confidence”. This helped them run their first holidays, and since then OCF has worked closely with the charity, in particular awarding them two grants from our Step Change Fund totalling £70,000 to help with the opening of a second social enterprise café in Witney.

Lessons for OCF

During Yellow Submarine’s early days, the charity had started to become a ‘serial grant applicant’ to OCF – leading us to have concerns that they were relying heavily on OCF as their sole source of funding. After an honest conversation with the founder, a different model was developed that would allow the charity to be self-sustaining. OCF tried to balance support and challenge for this organisation, and when they came back to us with the café idea, which would bring more financial stability, we were able to provide the next level of support. In the current context of local government cuts, Yellow Submarine’s evolution from charity to social enterprise could be an inspiration for others.

An 18-month apprenticeship is totally transformative for these individuals in a way that doesn’t compare to a short-term placement or volunteering.

Toby Staveley, Yellow Submarine Founder

At a glance


Social enterprise café offering apprenticeships to people with learning disabilities

Social themes

Supporting people with learning disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome, Fragile X and autism

Sustainable education and training opportunities


Big improvements in confidence and happiness

Post-apprenticeship employment in local businesses