A Lancashire fish and chip takeaway that promotes inclusivity with its autism-friendly ethos and wheelchair accessibility has prompted calls for the concept to be turned into a national franchise
There’s a huge sense of inclusion at Oliver’s Chippy in Warton, Preston, from the ramp outside offering access for both wheelchairs and mobility scooters to its visual menuboard so that anyone struggling to communicate verbally can easily express their food choices. Here, customers with additional needs – whether visible or hidden – have been thought about.
Owner Gillian Jervis says the inspiration for the business, which she runs with her husband Arran, has been her son Oliver who, at two years old, was diagnosed with autism. Not only did she want to create a space where everyone feels welcome, but also somewhere that would provide a safe place for Oliver to work when he is older.
Gillian comments: “I was on a forum one day and I saw a comment that said Oliver would be a burden on the state. I couldn’t believe it but it made me want to get my own business so that I could give him a job.
“We were browsing online and the fish and chip shop came up near where we live. It’s not very often a village chippy comes up for sale as normally they go to family members. We decided we’d have a look at purchasing it and it went from there.”
The pair’s only experience of fish and chips was when Gillian worked in a chippy back in 1999, but on 24th May 2021, Gillian and Arran opened Oliver’s. Offering walk-ins, click and collect and delivery, it’s a traditional fish and chip shop serving fish, chips, fishcakes, sausages, nuggets, and locally sourced Lytham pies. One item that jumps out for being different, however, is its truffle chips.
“It’s our unique selling product that no other chippy offers,” says Gillian. “It’s white truffle oil with sea salt and that’s an extra charge but it’s a different taste. There isn’t anywhere across Lancashire that I can think of that has truffle chips from a chippy.”
As well as catering for customers with additional needs, the shop is also an inclusive place to work, with Gillian welcoming and supporting people of all backgrounds to her team.
“Two of my staff are diagnosed with autism while others have got their own challenges,” she says. “When people come for an interview, they can say, ‘this is what I have and this is what makes me uncomfortable’ and we work around that. It’s all about being flexible.”
The visual menuboard, which utilises images rather than words and phrases, is a great aid for both customers and staff, with Gillian adding: “There are so many conditions that mean people struggle with speech, it’s not just autism. There is speech dyspraxia, selective mutism, people who are simply anxious and people for whom English is not their first language. Our menus cover all those eventualities and means people can still choose for themselves.”
Oliver, now 14, likes to help out in the shop, getting the sausages out of the freezer and counting out the chicken nuggets. The till has been adapted to include visual prompts so that Oliver can take customers’ orders, enabling him to build up his skills and confidence.
“It’s slow and steady, but I always think that is better for someone younger, especially a child with needs, than going straight into the workplace where they’ve absolutely no idea because they’re not prepared for it. Oliver will be prepared.”
The family-run chip shop has made quite a mark on the local community, feeding over 1,300 children for free during the school holidays, donating to food banks, and running competitions offering an iPad, a luxury caravan holiday and an air fryer – and all because Gillian cares.
“I get asked quite often why I do it and you’d think it would be publicity for the shop, but it’s not. I just really care.
“I think to myself, if one day, one of these children looks back at their life in 20 years time and thinks that fish and chip shop that is still there fed me when my parents were struggling, they are going to come back to me. I’m looking at the long-term goals for the shop.”
In recognition of all her efforts, Oliver’s Chippy won the first-ever Peter Hill Award in November. Launched by Middleton Food Products to honour the company’s late CEO Peter Hill, the award has generated money can’t-buy-publicity for the business. Gillian has appeared on Granada Reports, an ITV regional news programme covering the North West of England, and featured on the website for Family Fund, a charity that issues grants to help disabled children.
“It’s just bringing a lot more awareness because there are still a lot of parents with disabled children that do not know about the help and support available,” she says.
Gillian has also had customers saying the concept should be rolled out nationwide on a scale like McDonald’s and others calling for all outlets to be more inclusive.
“I’ve even had a woman e-mail me who said she is looking at doing something like this but with a hotel and thanking me for bringing it to light,” says Gillian. “Somebody has got to start the change and if that is me, then good.”
Winning a bounty of prizes worth £10,000, one of the experiences Gillian is most looking forward to is an online coaching session with Forked Up.
She comments: “As well as a tonne of positivity and anything business-wise that we may have overlooked, I’m looking forward to learning how to manage our time better because when you’ve got your own business you don’t get much time to switch off.”