DEAF youngsters have been given a boost with the opening of a cafe to help them interact with hearing people.

Volunteers are being sought for the V.Fresh Cafe in King Street, Blackburn, for what organisers hope will be a major step forward for deaf people in East Lancashire.

It is hoped that by working behind the counter at the cafe young deaf people will be able to develop their confidence and communication skills with hearing people.

And the cafe will also raise cash for East Lancashire Deaf Society and eventually provide paid employment for some volunteers.

The cafe was opened this week by the Mayor of Blackburn, Coun Yusuf Jan-Virmani.

Society chairman Doug Alker said: "Instead of begging as a charity with cap in hand, the society should be going out into the community and have deaf people working with hearing people.

"We want deaf people to be accepted as part of the community as much as anybody else.

"For example, perceptions of race in Blackburn have changed so it doesn't matter whether you are served by a white person or an Asian person in a shop.

"That is exactly what we want for deaf people."

Mr Alker, who is also chairman of the British Deaf Association, said deaf people throughout the UK were twice as likely to be unemployed as hearing people.

He said: "Employers tend not to employ deaf people because of communication problems and deaf people often don't have the confidence to interact with the public."

The cafe, which serves only vegetarian food, has about 22 volunteers and a hearing person will always be on hand to provide help if needed.

The food is freshly prepared, with much of it coming from local producers.

The cafe is the beginning of a £3.5m project which will create businesses, to be staffed by deaf people, in buildings opposite the cafe.

Mr Alker's wife Chantelle, who works at the society, is helping run the cafe during its opening week.

The 35-year-old, who is deaf, said: "It is a completely different world for me because I mostly use sign language.

"I have had a bit of a breakthrough without having an interpreter with me all the time.

"People have been really good. It is a bit like a foreign language to them, they use a lot of gestures.

"Nobody has been reluctant to talk to me."

Volunteers from age 13 upwards are being needed to work at the cafe. For more information call the society on 01254 844550.