THE News & Mail were guests at Her Majesty’s pleasure last week to see first-hand the innovative rehabilitation work being carried out by The Clink Restaurant charity at HMPs Send and High Down.
Our reporter was one of an intrigued visiting party invited for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the prison education project – founded in 2009 – with The Clink Charity CEO Chris Moore taking time out to explain how they prepare inmates for life outside the prison walls.
Chris says the charity’s sole aim is to ‘reduce re-offending rates of ex-offenders’ – an 87.5% drop in re-offenders has been recorded across its sites, which also include Brixton, Styal (Cheshire) and Cardiff prisons.
Send female prison, in Ripley Road – with a maximum capacity of 282 prisoners – is where the produce is grown, nurtured and sourced for the ‘contemporary British cuisine restaurant’ in the male-only High Down facility in Sutton.
The programme is open to inmates with six to 18 months remaining on their sentence, who meet educational criteria and, where applicable, have completed previous restorative courses, for example, for addiction issues.
Intake to the courses is purely on a voluntary basis, with the qualifications on offer including NVQ Food Preparation, Food Service and Horticulture.
The interior of The Clink restaurants, such as the furnishings, tables, chairs and wall art, is provided via prison workshops.
Amid tight visitor security – no mobile phones; even chewing gum is banned – HMP Send Governor Carlene Dixon was on hand to explain the ‘soft skills’ employers will be looking for, such as confidence, on the inmates’ release: “Women prisoners are very vulnerable. A lot are victims of domestic violence and have had the self-esteem battered out of them.
“Send does exactly what it says on the tin – rehabilitation.”
The strictly alcohol-free restaurant at HMP High Down served 14,000 members of the public in 2015.
It sources ingredients locally, including milk and cheese from West Horsley Dairy in Woking, while free-range Rhode Island Red breed chickens come from Rokers Farm in Merrist Wood.
Mayford-based PR and marketing firm Custard Communications also work closely with the project, and will host a cooking demo on the main stage of the Woking Food & Drink Festival in September.
Chief Executive Chris added: “The inmates say they grow the produce but they are the ones who are growing.”
Meanwhile, inmate ‘Eve’ agreed: “The Clink has given me the hope and confidence that I can rebuild my life and make a fresh start.”