From crime to cooking: The restaurant changing inmates' lives

By Sophie Gidley
BBC News


Lamb rump with pancetta and a butter bean cassoulet, and a maple syrup-baked fig with almond sponge.

They might sound like the kind of dishes you would expect to find on the menu of a Michelin-starred restaurant.

But they are being cooked and served up by inmates at a fine dining eatery just outside the walls of HMP Cardiff.

Since opening in 2012, The Clink has made quite a name for itself and was this week ranked among the UK's 10 best rated restaurants by users of website TripAdvisor.

But it has another success story - helping to reduce the reoffending rates of its Prescoed and Cardiff prisoners and give them aspirations for a successful life outside jail.

"It's changed my life," said Rob, who works as a chef at the restaurant.

The 39-year-old was jailed for five years for a drugs-related offence but is due to be released next week.

"I had never cooked before I came here but I worked on the main courses and have progressed to desserts. It's been an experience," he said.

"I've enjoyed it here. Hearing the comments of customers, it's nice.

"Eventually I want to own my own restaurant. It won't be as posh as this but I'll see how it goes."

image captionThe Clink Charity has offered Rob a job training other inmates in the kitchen once he is released

The restaurant, run by The Clink Charity, gives prisoners the opportunity to gain City and Guilds NVQ qualifications in food preparation and service.

The initiative offers six to 18 months of training, with each prisoner working 40 hours per week in the kitchen and restaurant, earning £17.

The aim is to prepare inmates for "life on the outside", the charity's chief executive Chris Moore said, with prisoners introduced to prospective employers.

And Rob is not the only one of its 30-strong staff with ambitions to build on the experience he has gained.

image captionFront-of-house staff member Ben, 27

Ben, 27, works front-of-house serving customers and staffing the bar. He has four months left of a four-year-sentence.

"It's my first time in prison. I lived on my own since I was 15, met my partner at 16 and had a baby when I was 17 before taking a wrong turn," he said.

"I had never worked before and was living on benefits. This has shown me a new way of life. It's a big chance.

"At the end of it, I want to have a job and to be able to fend for my family."

image captionChris Moore, chief executive of The Clink Charity, said the project helped rehabilitate inmates

Although the restaurant was always intended to be high-brow, staff "never thought it would come this far", general manager Jason Lawrence explained.

"To be in the top 10 of UK restaurants is amazing," he said.

"I'm really proud of the work that the team has put in, to achieve that status. Hopefully it's going to open up more employment opportunities for them outside prison."

Chief executive Mr Moore added he was proud of the part the restaurant had played in "educating the public".

"By allowing the public to come into a prison environment, it gives them an experience most people don't have," he added.

"I think when people come in and they realise the prison population is a cross-section of society, it personalises it.

"They are sons, fathers, brothers - just like you or I - and they deserve a chance outside prison."

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