Yellow Submarine trainees

Yellow Submarine logoYellow Submarine runs a variety of projects across Oxfordshire for young people with mild or moderate learning disabilities and autism, and provides workplace training in two 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 café in Oxford city centre 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.

The charity has had a life-changing impact on individuals like Lucy, who started going to Yellow Submarine school holiday activities back in 2012. After leaving school Lucy joined Yellow Submarine’s Compass Project, a supported work experience programme. Following this Lucy became a trainee at the Yellow Submarine café, where she spent 18 months working towards an employability qualification. Lucy is now in paid employment as well as carrying out numerous volunteering roles in the local area. Lucy is a shining example of what can be achieved when hard work, dedication and the right opportunities come together.

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 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 them 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 by providing a regular income for the charity, we were able to provide the next level of support. In the current context of local government cuts, Yellow Submarine’s model could be an inspiration for others.

“Lucy is now in paid employment – a shining example of what can be achieved when hard work, dedication and the right opportunities come together.

Alice Knibbs, Yellow Submarine Fundraising and Marketing Officer

At a glance


Award-winning Oxfordshire charity that believes people with learning disabilities and autism deserve to live life to the full

Social themes

Supporting people with learning disabilities and/or autism

Sustainable education and training opportunities


Big improvements in confidence and happiness

Post-training employment in local businesses