Concept Conference Centre Jo with past trainees

Concept Conference Centre Jo with past trainees

Team leader of Birmingham conference centre retires after a decade of supporting blind people into work.

Jo Parsons, team leader of Action for Blind People’s Concept Conference Centre, is leaving after 11 years of inspiring blind and partially sighted trainees.

Jo was approached by RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) to set up the conference centre in 2005 to provide training to people with sight loss. Her aim was to challenge misconceptions about careers in the hospitality industry for blind or partially sighted people.

Jo’s lifelong ambition has always been to work with food. Jo attended catering college at the age of 16 and was registered blind in 1992, at age 31. She has used her own experiences to support trainees to gain experience in professional kitchens to kick-start their careers in catering. Jo’s hard work has resulted in an 80 per cent employment success rate for the 32 paid trainees who worked at Concept Conference Centre.

Jo said:

“Concept Conference Centre has been a joy to work in alongside talented chefs. We have helped rebuild people’s confidence and teach them the skills they need to consider a career in catering or hospitality.

“I am so proud of all the trainees I’ve worked with and I remember every one of them. We’re like one big family. Concept has allowed me to challenge misconceptions about the work blind and partially sighted people can do and help them fulfil their career dreams.”

Penny Buykx, who is registered blind and trained at Concept, said:

“I’m so grateful to Jo. She invited me down to her kitchen and through tears of laughter and frustration she helped encourage me to learn vital new skills. She made the thought of working less daunting and lonely.

“The confidence she instilled in me paid off. Within six months I was the proud owner of a part-time job in an artisan bakery. Now I’m setting up my own biscuit company, thanks to what I learnt under Jo.”

Jo is going to offer bespoke cookery lessons at the Arden Cookery School she runs in Warwickshire. If you would like to find out more about the school please visit: theardenfoodschool.org.uk/courses/.