We were delighted to be a part of a refurbishment project on The Clink restaurant in Brixton Prison recently. The restaurant is run by a fantastic charity helping to rehabilitate prisoners and give them confidence and skills to get straight into work upon release. Find out more in our Q&A with the charity.
How was the idea for The Clink born?
The Clink Restaurant first opened in 2009 at HMP High Down in Surrey, when Alberto Crisci MBE, then catering manager of the main prison kitchen, identified the need for formal training, qualifications and support for prisoners in gaining employment after release which reduces the likelihood of reoffending. The issue of recidivism has become one of the most pressing challenges facing society today, and the need for formal training and support for prisoners is reinforced by figures recorded in the 2015 and 2016 ‘Bromley Briefings’, prison fact files produced by the Prison Reform Trust. The reports found that just 53% of the prison population has any qualifications and 46% of adults are reconvicted within one year of release, reinforcing the need for rehabilitation initiatives such as The Clink.
Above: Laminate table top in Egger Rust Ceramic with Flat Tech self-levelling bases
What has been the reaction to the charity and restaurants so far?
One of the challenges we face is changing public perceptions of prisoners. We have a large number of supporters that help to make The Clink Restaurants a viable means for raising money to support The Clink Charity’s commitment to reducing reoffending rates through work-based training and formalised education. Helping us to change these misconceptions is a list of ambassadors that help us to convey the message that those who are ready to change their life for the better and break the cycle of crime deserve a second chance.. The work of the charity is welcomed by the public too which is evident in each of the four restaurants’ impressive positions on the world’s largest review site TripAdvisor. The programme not only changes the lives of the Clink graduates and their families, but it makes society a safer place and ultimately saves the tax payer money by reducing the level of crime being committed.
Employment is another key issue that is affecting the reduction in reoffending. There can sometimes be a stigma around employing someone who has been to prison, despite the fact that it is estimated that one fifth of the working population has committed an offence. The Clink team works incredibly hard to build lasting relationships with potential employers to provide vital long term support to the graduates of The Clink on their release back into society and throughout their career. This support network has helped employers to feel confident in employing our graduates. The level of training they receive and the fact they work a 40-hour working week prepares them for working life outside of prison and means we can be confident in their professional ability in the workplace.
What is the selection process for the hospitality training – do inmates volunteer or are they chosen?
Each of The Clink Charity’s restaurants uses the charity’s ‘Five Step Programme’ (Recruit – Train – Support – Employ – Mentor). Prisoners volunteer to be trained in response to The Clink promoting their award-winning training programme in the prison job shop and the prison newspaper which is called Inside Times. Prisoners with six and 18 months left of their sentence are eligible to apply as this allows The Clink team enough time to train an individual to the necessary standard expected of the hospitality industry. Agreed criteria for recruitment includes good behaviour and a basic level of education and motivation to train and gain qualifications and experience in a restaurant environment, as well as prison criteria such as security clearance. Ultimately though we want to hear an individual say that they are fed up with prison and want to change to ensure they don’t ever return.
Is an award/qualification awarded at the end of training?
Prisoners working in the restaurants work a 40-hour week whilst working towards achieving City and Guilds NVQs in food preparation and food service. On completion of their training, The Clink’s team of support workers mentor the prisoners to secure employment upon release. They meet them at the gate and support them as they reintegrate back into society, often helping them to secure sheltered accommodation, open a bank account and source appropriate clothing for a job interview – something they may never have owned before. Once a job has been secured, the mentor will visit the graduate at their place of work on a weekly basis for three to six months to ensure their continued commitment to their own rehabilitation.
What limitations comes with the restaurant’s locations? (We assume diners aren’t able to snap picture of their meals for Instagram)
The Clink Restaurants at HMP Brixton in London and HMP High Down in Surrey are currently the only restaurants that sit within the prison walls. As such, prior to entering either of these restaurants guests are required to pass a security check and will be met by security guards to check for identity and provide secure lockers for guest’s belongings before being escorted to the restaurant. At the restaurants at HMP Cardiff in Wales and HMP Styal in Cheshire The Clink Restaurants are situated outside of the prison walls but still within the grounds, and as such are able to accommodate walk-in guests, evening sittings and weekend opening times.
Why was Contract Furniture chosen for the Brixton restaurant fit?
As well as being hard wearing and easy to keep clean, Contract Furniture’s tables use the latest technology and have features such as self-levelling. The tables have the perfect finish and the colour compliments the interior decoration and slate walls of our restaurants.
How has the new restaurant, along with its design, been received so far?
The restaurant isn’t new but the design constantly has guests commenting how they can’t believe they are inside a prison and could be in any fine dining restaurant. We work hard to simulate a realistic working environment in order to fully prepare our trainees for what to expect in the outside working world.
We have a huge amount of support from the hospitality industry and are lucky to have some of the best kitchen equipment available on the market for the trainees to learn with. This also helps to prepare them for the sort of environment they are likely to be working in on release and ensures they are able to confidently use the professional equipment they will be faced with.