Photo: Chelsea Shoesmith Photography

When you think of prison food, you’re probably imagining something along the lines of school dinners rather than fresh, quality ingredients prepared using the latest cookery techniques.

But The Clink Charity has been challenging that perception with its prison restaurants which are open to the public.

The aim is to reduce reoffending rates by training prisoners and by mentoring and placing them into employment in the hospitality industry upon release. They have seen a 41% reduction in reoffending rates following successful completion of the course.

Photo: Chelsea Shoesmith Photography

The first restaurant opened in 2009 at HMP High Down in Surrey. Now four branches across the country serve 4000 diners each month.

The Clink Restaurant at HMP Styal in Wilmslow, which opened to the public in 2015, is the first in the north of England and the first in a women’s prison.

The restaurant uses quality, fresh and locally sourced produce to create classic dishes with a modern British twist.

It serves breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea from Wednesday to Fridays, as well as Sunday lunch and a gourmet dinner at weekends. The lunch menu includes dishes such as beetroot and maple cured salmon sashimi with pickled horseradish and fried capers, followed by roast tenderloin of pork wrapped in prosciutto with black pudding mash, rainbow chard, apple gel and sage jus. Dessert could be a caramel custard tart with coffee and mascarpone ice cream and pecan crunch.

“We offer a unique dining experience to members of the public with great food and good service,” says restaurant manager trainer Gail Gardner-Harding.

“We get a lot of repeat customers – the support from the local community is amazing. The programme gives women confidence and the chance to get used to working with the public again as well as cash handling and working the till system – skills that really help them fit back into employment. Some of our graduates now work in 5 star hotels.”

Photo: Chelsea Shoesmith Photography

The huge success of the project has led to a new concept café opening soon in Manchester city centre. The Clink Café, based in Canada House near Oxford Street, will be the first off-site restaurant for the project when it opens in Manchester city centre this spring.

It aims to provide the same high standard of cuisine as the restaurants.

“The Clink Café will focus on training Clink graduates and also homeless clients of the Centrepoint Charity to gain their accredited City and Guilds NVQ Level 2 qualifications in Food and Beverage Service as well as barista skills,” says café manager Jenny Thomas.

“As in the restaurants, the food offer will use only fresh, high quality, healthy ingredients. With a strong brand identity, our café will replicate the core values of the Clink Charity in the heart of Manchester.”

“The project has the ability to reduce reoffending, to change lives for the better, and to change perceptions from the public and employers, too,” says Gail Gardner-Harding.

“By having that access to the restaurants and meeting the people that work there, it breaks down some of the negative associations and enables us to open our minds to giving people a second chance. And if the food and service at Styal is anything to go by, I for one can’t wait to try out the new café!”

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