Most of you, like me, will have driven along the A436 between the Air Balloon pub and the Cirencester Road and will have a vague awareness that there has long been a charitable organisation operating from a country estate in Ullenwood, just set back from the road. Perhaps like me you will have known that the charity operates a college for young people with disabilities. Perhaps you’ll be really informed and have an idea of the kind of fantastic facilities and opportunities National Star offer these young people from their Ullenwood site and if you’re really local to the area you may even know that they have started several incredible, unique and innovative social enterprises to offer their students real, hands on opportunities to work in customer facing roles and to develop skills that mean they are all set to live full, rewarding adult lives. Or…. you won’t have a clue that just a couple of miles beyond Leckhampton Hill there is a place you should be taking advantage of not only because you’d be supporting an amazing local charity and initiative but because the place serves a really very decent lunch (and entertainment beyond…. Pay and Play golf anyone?)
As National Star is CheltenhamMaman’s Charity of the Month for January it was definitely time to get ‘in the know’ so I headed up with my Push It Real Good walk partner, Beth of The Bump to Baby Chapter to find out what is going on in Ullenwood.
Well to start with let’s just mention that a venue that is predominantly designed with the disabled in mind is always going to be packed with mum friendly facilities. The pushchairs can get everywhere with ease and the StarBistro (which is the main focus of this blog) has ample space for pushchairs (nothing worse than having to collapse them and shove them in a broom cupboard… you never have enough hands.)
Once you’re easily through the door and seated it’s time to take stock of how this setup works. The StarBistro is staffed predominantly by students who live with a wide variety of learning and physical disabilities, some clear to see, others more subtle. Most of the students are partnered with another member of staff – so there are little teams throughout – students in the kitchen, on reception and waiting on tables are all partnered with someone who can support and guide them in their jobs. So I suppose things (such as taking your order, or food and drink prep) might take a little longer than you would expect in a standard eatery but we didn’t actually experience this and the service throughout really was first class (and that is not a ‘blogger’s con’ – it’s a very sincere fact.)
The menu is excellent with a light bites offering… Beth chose the Eggs Florentine and the eggs were just perfect – even Nancy agreed. Prices for light bites about £6-£8. I chose from the main menu (two courses £17, three courses £22.50 or you can just order a la carte with mains around £11.50) and had a delicious Corn Fed Chicken Supreme though the Bébé insisted on trying out her latest trick (highchair Houdini) every five minutes so I was mainly having a bite and then hotfooting it across the floor to catch her. The food was first class – and all served with a smile.
Speaking of naughty Bébés… (she really was trying her luck – at one point I offered her up as payment for the meal) – the staff were extremely accommodating. No eye rolling, they fetched us a box of Duplo and when a table became free in the corner by their very well equipped play area (toy kitchen, dolls house and much more) they suggested we might be more comfortable there and helped us up sticks leaving us time to enjoy the dessert in (relative) peace.
Oh and that dessert.. as you all know I’m being whipped into shape by Cheltenham Fit Mama so I just had a few spoonfuls of Beth’s brownie with raspberry sorbet, jelly and orange crumb and it was a masterpiece! I couldn’t resist sidling on up to the pass to see a couple of the chefs in action and shoot a few of the other desserts (but alas still no eating… ) Couldn’t stay long though as the Bébé had taken the opportunity of my slipping away to let Nancy know who was boss with a nifty right hook (and it was the day after Nancy’s birthday… really not on.) I don’t know where she gets this aggressive streak from – I detest conflict so it’s not in my genes!
Before long the small people let it be know that their tolerance of chit chat had been reached and we took a stroll of the campus with Pete Johnson who is in charge of the commercial enterprises that National Star are developing. The facilities are incredible. These students get to do aerial dance (picture cirque de soleil but maybe with less glittery costumes) amongst many many other activities and therapies and it was impressive to see just what opportunities this charity can provide for young people who otherwise might not have the chance to achieve their goals and aspirations. This year marks 50 years of National Star and so much has happened since this country house was set aside to house people affected by the Thalidomide crisis although it all began at Ullenwood, National Star offers a variety of learning, work and travel programmes across England and Wales.
In addition to the StarBistro (another branch of which is in Cheltenham, Royal Crescent by the Bus Station but more on that another day) and the golf course I understand National Star have a glamping site and their theatrical, meeting and recreational facilities can be hired for use outside of students hours.
In short I really recommend you go and try this spot out. The StarBistro is open 9am – 4pm for coffees, lunches and more. They have wi-fi so it’s a great spot for all of you MumBosses to hold your business meetings or head off for some planning time. They’re also extremely child friendly so this is a great spot to take the tinies and be a lady who lunches – that maternity leave will be over before you know it – cram as many of these in as you can Maman!
You can find out more about StarBistro at Ullenwood here. You can also follow or like them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. To find out why we are supporting them this month and what you can do to help, take a look at our blog from earlier in the year.