Instead of simply looking to catering colleges for new employees, restaurateurs will soon have the option of hiring their staff from prisons with the news that HMP High Down in Sutton, Surrey has pioneered the first public on-site restaurant.
A not-for-profit venture, the restaurant, aptly named The Clink, will train and employ inmates at the High Down to work as waiters and chefs. It is hoped that the restaurant will pull in potential employers, giving the inmates a chance to get their lives back on track.
Alberto Crisci (pictured right), Head Catering Services Manager at High Down, and the brains behind The Clink, said: “This isn`t about prisoners who want to play restaurants. This is about people - people who have slipped, sure, but who deserve a second chance. I want The Clink to be the sound of chains being broken, for men who want and deserve a second chance at life. The Clink will change the public’s perception to prisoners.”
Diners, mainly staff and visitors, will need to undergo a security check before being allowed through the 747-inmate prison gates and into the 80-cover restaurant, which will be designed, constructed and decorated by inmates. There will even be a chef’s table, situated behind a two-way glass screen to give a great view of the open-plan kitchen.
Peter Dawson, Governor of HMP High Down, said: “The training offered to prisoners by Al Crisci and his team is second to none, and has drawn praise from every person lucky enough to have attended one of our regular gourmet lunches. So The Clink will turn out highly skilled individuals as well as brilliant food.
“Every time a chef or waiter at The Clink serves a meal, they will play their part in dispelling the prejudice and ignorance that gets in the way of successful resettlement.”
The British Hospitality Association has shown its support for the venture, which will help fill the widening gap for adequately skilled workers in the industry.
"What an excellent idea! The prison should be congratulated," a spokesman for the BHA said. "Giving prisoners new skills like these, which they can use when they are released, sounds very enlightened and should be encouraged. I doubt that the output would be so large that it would solve the shortage of adequately skilled staff but the industry can use any worker with the right skills and the right attitude. We must all believe, however shakily, in the redemptive power of prison and if this project is a success, long may it flourish and extend to other prisons."
The restaurant is currently undergoing construction and is hoped to be open to the public early next year.