This Cafe Is Helping Transform The Lives Of Its Staff

“Coffee with a conscience”


After Boris Johnson recently announced plans to launch 10,000 new prison places, the issue of rehabilitation is, or at least should be a widespread conversation.

It’s no secret that the justice system in the UK is hugely flawed. According to The Prison Reform Trust the prison population has risen by 77% in the last 30 years while 46% of people who have spent time in prison are expected to reoffend.

Those statistics should be enough to prove that extra prison places alone isn’t close to being a solution. They also reinforce why rehabilitation projects are more important now than ever before.

The Clink Charity’s main goal is to stop reoffending, offering prisoners training projects where they work up to 40-hours a week, while gaining their City and Guilds qualifications. The idea came when Alberto Crisci MBE, then catering manager at HMP High Down in Surrey, recognised the potential of prisoners working in the kitchens.

Those with six to eighteen months of their sentence left serve as volunteers on the programme, going through full-time training in order to reach the required level to succeed in their industry.

So far The Clink works with Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service to deliver 11 training projects, made up of 4 restaurants, 2 gardens, 3 kitchens, 1 events catering business and 1 cafe.

I spent an afternoon in the cafe, located in Manchester city centre in a stunning Grade II listed building. As well as those who had spent time in prison, the cafe is also staffed by clients of local charities dedicated to fighting issues like homelessness and addiction.

The cafe itself is just as nice as any high-end coffee shop and is consistently packed, from people working away on laptops to groups of friends catching up.

I sat down with the Cafe manager, Jen, who explained more about the concept, the day-to-day operations and the transition people go through when they first start working there.

“It’s changed my attitude, everyone’s just a person, for one reason or another, normally through circumstance, they’ve ended up where they’ve ended up. We’re there to help guide them.”

Two of the full-time members of staff had completed qualifications while working at the restaurant based in Styal Women’s Prison before being brought in. Chrissy, who was soon due for release and Emily, who had been released a few months earlier.

“Emily was in prison for theft from an employer and Chrissy was in for drug offences, being an ex-addict herself. Both are great, fantastic at what they do, all the customers love them and their interaction with the customers is great too.”

The charity is built on five key factors:

  • Charity – A gold star approach to governance, influencing policy, effecting change, excellent relationship with industry ambassadors.
  • CollegeAccredited City & Guilds training, real-life working environment, ‘outstanding provider’ recognised by OFSTED, builds teamwork.
  • RestaurantHigh quality ingredients, high standards, breaking down barriers, changing the public perception of serving prisoners.
  • Reintegration – Reduced chance of Clink graduate reoffending by 49.6%, credible solution to industry skills-gap, making society safer.
  • Sustainability – Recycling food, recycling packaging, recycling lives.

Speaking to Chrissy it quickly became obvious how vital projects like this are in introducing prisoners back into everyday society. After being sentenced to four and a half years, a huge sense of uncertainty was obviously placed on her future.

“I heard about the restaurant at Styal, I did my qualification there and with the qualification you get two years support on release. So they help you with getting a property, getting a job and that was the main thing for me, because I’d lost my house, I’d lost everything.

Being here and at the Styal, my confidence has grown. Just meeting new people and making people smile, I like it.

“It’s good to know that people are looking at employing ex-prisoners. Years ago everyone would have been looking down on us.”

Now in its tenth year, The Clink has rightfully earned all kinds of praise and it’s its importance is obviously essential in reshaping the way we approach rehabilitation and the justice system as a whole.

The numbers speak for themselves, nearly 50% of people who enter the programme are less likely to reoffend – and from a purely human standpoint, it’s good to know that people who have, of course, made mistakes, can still make something of themselves and enjoy the process of doing so.

You can help Clink continue the amazing work they’re already doing, by donating here.

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