An innovative initiative between South East Technological University (SETU) and Waterford’s Vita Community Hub has opened the door to further opportunities within the hospitality industry for students of all ages and abilities.

Throughout the academic year, students from SETU’s hospitality courses were partnered with RehabCare Vita Community Hub students in a bid to foster an inclusive learning environment. During this time, RehabCare students worked at Seasons Training Restaurant and GrowthHub Café to develop their hospitality skills under the guidance and leadership of SETU’s hospitality students and staff.

Waterford’s Vita Community Hub aims to empower individuals of all ages and disabilities to lead independent and fulfilling lives. Recognising these shared desires and values, SETU was proud to play a part in these students’ journeys toward meaningful autonomy. 

Fabrice Bartholin, Lecturer in Hospitality Management and Tourism at SETU, said, “This innovative partnership fostered significant growth for all participants. SETU hospitality students developed leadership skills by confidently coaching and overseeing service delivery by the Vita Community Hub students. 

“Vita Community Hub members thrived by taking ownership of our university cafe’s operations and contributing to the lunch service. This collaboration exemplifies the power of inclusive learning environments.” 

Dr Don O’Neill, Head of the Department of Humanities at SETU in Waterford, said, “Students from the VITA hub were warmly welcomed and integrated seamlessly into the training restaurant setting. The mutual sharing and learning were a pleasure to behold.” 

Aisling McCaffrey, Community Support Worker at Rehab Care, added, “This collaboration has been so impactful on our Vita students. It has not only developed their self-confidence and independence, but it has also allowed them to play a more valued role within their local community. As a result of this collaboration, our students have had work placement opportunities within the hospitality industry and one student has successfully obtained employment.” 

Vita students were keen to express their pride in participating in the initiative. One student, Larry Ovie from Dungarvan, Co Waterford, said that those close to him have seen his “confidence grow” since first attending SETU, “Every day is like reaching a new goal, and I believe I’ve reached that goal thanks to this module. I really appreciate the opportunity.” 

Another Vita student, Conor Flynn from Piltown, Co Kilkenny, added, “I enjoyed learning how to make the cocktails and the mocktails, bringing out people's food and clearing them when they were finished. It was an inspirational experience and was interesting to learn about the hospitality sector.”