YOU would be forgiven for walking past The Route Diner in Widnes nestled on the corner of the high street without realising it was there.

However, it would be a loss, as this hidden gem masquerading as a mere cafe is a small business with a big heart.

The cafe, which has been serving homemade food for four years, only employs and supports adults with learning disabilities, mental health and physical and sensory disabilities.

Called The Route, as it is a 'route into all other jobs', it is the first to get the green light by Halton Council to own goats to produce milk and cheese to sell in their shops.

The farm in Bredon, Runcorn, also houses chickens and a pony.

"We have had the goats a year and are looking at further extending their animal family with rabbits and ducks", says Lynsey Alderson, 40, who oversees the day to day running of the farm.

"We clean the animals' houses and each day we do something different with activities in the afternoon such as planting and painting horse shoes."

Employees also take the animals out for a walk and are linked up with businesses so they can visit people with dementia that can't get out by helping them with animal therapy.

Divisional manager of communities for Halton Council Stiofan O'Suillibhan said: "In the world of learning disabilities there are no opportunities for jobs so we decided to try and fix this.

"We train the staff on the job and integrate them into society rather than have them working in a day care centre."

Runcorn and Widnes World:

Echoing these sentiments was Manager of the Community Bridge Building Team for Halton Borough Council Sheila Thornhill, who works in partnership with Community Day Services to provide volunteers to support their business ventures: "It's a very nurtured environment where staff feel comfortable. We support people to grow and develop which hopefully will move on to future employment."

There is also a shopmobility store adjacent to the cafe which sells walking sticks and mobility scooters and also helps people who need wheelchairs to register and hire them out for a small fee.

The shop has a sister mobility site in Runcorn Shopping City and is looking at extending to selling insurance in the near future.

Not content with three shops, the cafe operates several other businesses, all of which help integrate people with learning disabilities into the community, including:

The Norton Priory Cafe and Tea Rooms

Murdishaw Community Cafe

Dorset Gardens Cafe

Norton Brewing brewery and bottling plant.

Cupcakes Bakery

County Garden Ice Cream

Coachhouse Crafts

Altered Images hair salon Hough Green Market Gardens.

Priory Ale was set up alongside the popular ice-cream parlour after the cafe was awarded £50,000 from the Social Enterprise Investment Fund (SEIF) for Innovation.

Runcorn and Widnes World:

The ale which is based on a first World War recipe using English Hops syrup and molasses is brewed at Norton Priory Brewery - opened in 2011 by Runcorn native comedian John Bishop.

The unique micro-brewery is the first of its kind in the UK and is sold in shops and bars.

Hairdressers Altered Image in Runcorn has been running for 10 years and is meaningful to the people who work there including stylists Roberta, 39 and Cheryl, 53, who has been there since the salon first opened its doors.

"It offers basic treatments to promote inclusion and development into the work environment", said Day Service Officer Liz Jenkins.

"We make all our cafes easy accessible for all. All the tables are wheelchair friendly", said Michelle Hillyer Senior Day Service Coordinator who has worked in day services for over 20 years and oversees the catering aspect.

"The councillors have supported us to do all this especially when we were starting off and our aim is to create as many local jobs as possible so people could be employed in the country.

"The real emphasis is getting people with multiple disabilities integrated into the community."

Any future plans? "We are looking into developing something on loneliness such as a dementia cafe day at the cafe and we have stuff coming up in the summer with a celebrity guest", she added.

Next time you find yourself walking past one of these shops - why not drop in to say hello where you will always be extended a warm, home from home welcome.