A stylish and sophisticated new conference dining facility has opened to help people with learning difficulties and autism get into the catering trade.

The Riverbank Kitchen had its grand opening night on Wednesday evening, March 11, at the People First Conference Centre, in Milbourne Street, Carlisle, with about 80 guests attending.

The kitchen and centre is run by the People First, the charity which seeks to help people with the conditions through advocacy, training and a number of other initiatives.

The project aims to support eight people with the conditions gain qualifications and job skills.

They will each spend either 12, 24 or 36 months at the centre and also get experiences in other hotels and restaurants.

The idea is to have them learn the trade with hospitality professionals to gain the knowledge and confidence they need to become ready for work.

One of the learners is Ricardo Medes, who lives in Carlisle. He said: "I would love to learn things like meeting and greeting people, showing them to their rooms.

"Sometimes I will need help with cooking and remembering things.

"Basically I would like to learn to be a really good cook and I want to be like a chef.

"Yesterday night I was watching MasterChef on the TV."

Ricardo said he has so far learnt how to do things like English breakfasts and shortbread and has recently made a soup.

One of his favourite dishes to cook is Cachupa is a famous dish from Portugal - it is a slow cooked stew of corn, beans, cassava, sweet potato, fish or meat.

He has had experiences with other organisations like Carlisle's John Watt & Son, coffee roasters and tea blenders where he has helped to grind the coffee.

Ricardo also worked at Doves Cafe, on Chapel Street, Carlisle, and Overwater Hall in Wigton.

He added: "When I made the soup it was part of an evening where guests paid £50 and included the room, it was really good to help them."

Another recruit who's keen to learn the catering trade is 20-year-old Ellie O'Roarty.

She said: "I hope to be a good waitress but I'd also like to be a lawyer.

"I like to do all sorts of things.

"When I was younger I did not know that something like this existed - I was more interested in boy bands and girl bands.

"It will be good learning how to do this and that - all different types of jobs."

David Blacklock, chief executive officer at People First, was there to welcome guests on opening night.

He said: "The learners would be with us for up to 36 months depending on the amount of support they needed.

"We basically run the business as a conference centre to serve those using the centre.

"We'll show the learners for example how to be receptionists, how to hire conference rooms out, how to cook all in a very supportive environment.

"Things like hospitality training, food preparation, service and hosting.

"The Riverbank Kitchen provides a space to develop the skills they need to thrive in the world of work.

"It has been a superb night with lots of supporters and fundraisers, it has been really nice.

"The learners have really shone tonight and I'm really proud of all of them.

"By booking your next meeting with us, you too can help them into paid employment."

The Riverbank Kitchen was officially launched by county council chairman Christine Bowditch.

The conference centre was opened last year but the organisation has been helping people for three decades.

For information go online to wearepeoplefirst.co.uk