How did you get into employing ex-offenders?
I began working with Key4Life, a brilliant charity, about five years ago. I started mentoring Ruben (pictured to the right of Alex) through the organisationand was able to offer employment to some of the other men on its scheme leaving prison. It started by offering one part time role and grew from there. Starting off as a mentor meant I worked closely with the charity. I did my first ever prison visit with Key4Life which was to visit Ruben in HMP Isis. It is next to Belmarsh and totally terrifying! The charity were a real support and linked me with prison leavers needing experience or who wanted a job in the industry. I also work with Switch Back, The Clink and Only a Pavement Away.
Tell us about some of the other people you have employed through the scheme...
Over the years we have employed a number of brilliant men who have been recruited behind bars and then mentored through the gate into employment. Depending on each individual the employment length varies, for some ex-offenders holding down the job for a month or two is a brilliant success and other have worked for us for a number of years and progressed in the company. Suhail has been on our longest ex-offender employee, he worked with Social Pantry for just over three years and left to go and work for a bigger venue in a logistics role. Suhail started as a part time KP and left after working at our main production unit where he led a small team. Suhail would induct new ex-offenders and mentor guys who were with us for work tasters.
How many people do you employ through the scheme?
We have managed to keep on two roles that are currently filled by ex-offenders who will return post Covid-19. Kiel, who joined last spring after leaving Brixton Prison, is a shining example of someone who has changed after getting employment on release. Once we are back to ‘normal’ and allowed to visit our partners in Brixton Prison Bakery, Kiel will go back into prison to talk to the current inmates about his journey and inspire the guys behind bars. As you can imagine by embracing all of the above Kiel is a real asset to my business.
How has it benefited The Social Pantry?
Initially I did not ‘PR’ the fact that I was employing ex-offenders, but I am pleased to say that the perception of employing them has now changed and is seen as a positive. There is no denying the challenges that come with the commitment of employing ex-offenders. The reality is that it also takes a significant amount of resource and as a small company we are often working with little to no budgets. It takes a lot of time, energy and commitment from all of my team. From chefs working alongside the men, to the office team, it is a combined effort and I am eternally grateful to my team for being as passionate as I am when it comes to helping these men change their lives. It has given my company a unique USP and on certain occasions this is the reason people or corporate clients want to work with Social Pantry. I am extremely proud to employ such a diverse workforce who are all fantastically driven and brilliant.
Why should other hospitality businesses follow suit?
We all need to help, do our bit and support in order to make a positive change. As a small business with small budgets if I can commit to helping there are no excuse for the bigger businesses. It is exciting to see the mindset of people at the top of large corporations changing. Even as a small company though just one job opportunity opening up for an ex-offender can change a life and can prevent someone from re-offending and take them out of the prison system.