Look inside new train cafe at Five Acre Wood School in Maidstone backed by Costa

Pictures have revealed the amazing transformation of a train carriage into a fully functioning cafe at a special needs school.

The eagerly-awaited and unique project at Five Acre Wood in Maidstone is set to open in September.

KentOnline had a sneak peek inside the new train cafe at Five Acre Wood School in Maidstone
KentOnline had a sneak peek inside the new train cafe at Five Acre Wood School in Maidstone

KentOnline has been given exclusive access inside the newly transformed carriage.

In August last year, the 25-tonne train was transported from Great Yarmouth and lowered into place at the school.

Three heavy-duty cranes hoisted it into position while staff, parents and pupils watched on.

The structure is a Mark 2 carriage, which was built by British Rail between 1964 and 1975.

Taken from the school’s acronym FAW, the FAWrient Express is set to become a fully functioning cafe and hospitality training academy.

Contractor Restoring Homes had the mammoth task of transforming the carriage.

Project manager Jeremy Harris believes he has never tackled something so unique.

He said: “My company does things like shop refits which tends to be bespoke work.

“That’s one of the key reasons I was asked to look at the carriage.

“It was quite exciting and always nice when people approach you. I'm willing to give anything a go.

The 25-tonne train was transported and craned into place at the school in August last year
The 25-tonne train was transported and craned into place at the school in August last year
Jeremy Harris from Restoring Homes has been overseeing the project
Jeremy Harris from Restoring Homes has been overseeing the project

“If I believe it's achievable and can envisage it in my head, then that's good enough.

“I'm up for a challenge. It was great because you learn a hell of a lot from this.”

The school in Boughton Lane, which is graded “Outstanding” by Ofsted, caters for youngsters aged two to 19 with profound, severe and complex learning difficulties, including autistic spectrum disorder.

Once the cafe opens, older pupils will be able to prepare, serve and sell drinks and light bites to the public.

The school also aims to offer quality takeaway and delivery, as well as an eat-in service.

Before the renovations took place. Picture: Hannah Juden
Before the renovations took place. Picture: Hannah Juden

On January 29, the contractors began stripping the vehicle back to its bare shell.

“It took nearly a month and three 12-yard skips,” Jeremy explained.

“You had all of the existing chairs in there and the old buffet area. They were designed not to come apart, so it was pretty hard work.

“Because it was an early ‘70s build, we discovered some strips of asbestos under the heating systems that ran across the floor.

“That had to be sorted out. Within a few days, we were able to commence work again.”

It will seat up to 26 customers inside
It will seat up to 26 customers inside

He added: “I found a ticket on here from 2000 which I think was from Eastbourne to Carlisle.

“So the carriage was still functioning back then and then it sat somewhere not long after that.”

The 53-year-old and his team have widened the gangway inside the carriage and created better access to the toilet at the back.

A lift will also be installed next to the cafe so it can be wheelchair accessible.

The carriage measures 20m by 2.5m and has an indoor area that will have space for 26 customers.

A welcome sign greets visitors as they enter the train
A welcome sign greets visitors as they enter the train
Coffee and tea tins have been put up along the walls of the carriage
Coffee and tea tins have been put up along the walls of the carriage

More seating is set to be added on the outdoor platform that can be used during the warmer months.

However, Jeremy says they tried to keep it the same shape so that it still felt like an “authentic” carriage.

He added: “I wanted to make sure that you don't feel trapped when you come in.

“You still feel like you've got plenty of space around you when actually it accommodates quite a lot of people.”

Fresh wooden flooring has been laid and the whole carriage has been given a new lick of paint.

The kitchen is nearly up and running
The kitchen is nearly up and running

A specially designed logo has been printed on both the outside of the train and on the wall as you walk inside.

Graphic designers have created a pictorial timeline of how it was transformed.

There is also the history of coffee and tea in the front of the carriage.

They have been printed above the windows for customers to read while they drink.

Colourful tin boxes have been stuck to the walls, with surround sound speakers also being installed.

A logo has been designed especially for the project and features throughout
A logo has been designed especially for the project and features throughout

The project has been backed by several businesses, including nationwide chain Costa.

The firm has agreed to provide coffee beans and machines to use.

Head teacher Tim Williams is currently planning the curriculum that will be used alongside the roles in the cafe.

The kitchen has brand new coffee machines and cupboards are being stocked full with supplies.

“Everybody wants to come and have a look,” Jeremy said. “They just love the idea and what it is trying to achieve.

“At the end of the day, it's not about money. It's all about what opportunities it will give the kids and that's pretty precious.”

Head teacher Tim Williams says he is “beyond excited”
Head teacher Tim Williams says he is “beyond excited”

He said: “We're working closely with our friends at Costa to be trained and for our managers to be trained in barista skills.

“In terms of being operational, we're not that far away, but we don't want to compromise and rush things towards the end.

“We're nearly there, it's been absolutely transformed. I am beyond excited.”

Tim says pupils have been following the progress of the train “eagerly” every day. He has confirmed the official unveiling will be on Friday, September 27.

The stars of the show – the pupils – are expected to cut the ribbon.

Customers will be able to read a timeline on how the train was transformed
Customers will be able to read a timeline on how the train was transformed

“The purpose of this space is to train our young people in hospitality skills to get them into the world of work,” he added. “So if we can do that, mission accomplished.

“I'm incredibly proud of what we've achieved and that's only been possible through amazing partnerships and support across our community.

“I'd like to thank everybody who’s been involved in this project.”

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