UK Prison Restaurants Called “The Clink” Run by Inmates Are Transforming Lives
Have you ever savored the exquisite flavors of a gourmet meal inside a prison, an experience far from the ordinary? If you find yourself in the UK, here’s some exciting news. Fully-run inmate-operated restaurants known as “The Clink” are revolutionizing the prison landscape and adding to the success stories of culinary rehabilitation. But what’s even better is that you don’t need to be incarcerated to try this unique dining experience because they are all accessible to the general public.
Picture entering a secure facility with concrete walls topped with razor wires. Then, after depositing your phones, enter a restaurant with barred windows, plastic cutleries, and walls adorned with emergency or panic buttons. The experience, as most of their Internet reviews say, is incredible.
Over the years, “The Clink” prison restaurants have received multiple awards and ratings that even beat oldest restaurants owned by world-renowned chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver. These prison restaurants play a pivotal role in transforming the lives of offenders for the better by giving them employment opportunities after they are out in the world. This subsequently brings down the rate of reoffending.
Sounds like a very well-run and interesting project, right? Are you intrigued to know about this behind-bar story? If so, read on!
What are “The Clink” restaurants, and what is the idea behind the project?
The word “Clink” comes from the colloquial term “clink,” which in UK English is a general slang for prison or jail cell. This term, in turn, originates from “The Clink,” a historic prison in Southwark that dates back to 1144 CE. The word has now become synonymous with prisons in the U.K. The concept of the “Clink Charity” was founded by Alberto Crisci, the catering manager at the HM Prison High Down, which is a resettlement prison in Surrey. Here, he set up the first restaurant in 2009 after discovering a huge potential for inmates if they are trained with key skills to run restaurants.
The Clink Charity works alongside Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and aims to diminish reoffending rates through their training and rehabilitation programs that help the inmates reintegrate into society after release. Prisoners who have six to 18 months of their sentence left take part in the program and get professional training in kitchen work, culinary skills, professional cooking, food hygiene and hospitality, and related skills. Presently, apart from restaurants, they also have a bakery, event catering, horticulture, the Clink kitchens, and a café in Manchester.
While The Clink Charity doesn’t profess to offer a miraculous solution to the broader challenges of a much larger problem posed by overcrowded cells, recidivism, government policies, and budget cuts, their tangible results do demonstrate that with sincere initiative, support, and endorsement, rehabilitation endeavors can indeed yield positive outcomes.
The Clink restaurants consistently rank high on Tripadvisor, beating many famous restaurants in the area.
The first Clink restaurant opened in 2009 within the walls of the HM Prison High Down in Surrey. As a result of its success, the Clink Charity was formed in 2010 and eventually opened up three more restaurants inside different prisons in the U.K. In 2012, the second Clink restaurant opened at HMP Cardiff, run by low-risk inmates from Prescoed and Cardiff prisons. The Cardiff restaurant has been named 10th among the top 10 best-rated restaurants in Tripadvisor’s “Travellers’ Choice Favourite Fine Dining Restaurants UK 2015.” Sadly, due to lease renewal issues, this restaurant closed down in 2022.
In 2014, the third Clink restaurant opened at HMP Brixton, and in 2014, for the first time, the charity started its work in a women’s prison with a diverse plan. It established The Clink Gardens at HMP Send in Surrey, where it teaches prisoners horticulture. They often deliver the salad, fruit, vegetables, herbs, and eggs produced there to Clink restaurants. The fourth restaurant opened at HMP Styal in 2015.
Right now, there are three restaurants that are up and running. The Clink Restaurant at HMP Styal is frequently in the top 10 restaurants in Wilmslow on Tripadvisor. In fact, in 2017, all of the Clink restaurants held the first spot for six months and consistently got five-star reviews on food, hospitality, and ambiance. Additionally, they also regularly cater events in Central London, in well-known venues like the Guildhall and St Paul’s Cathedral, and surprisingly, have also catered two royal events.
The Clink Charity has also published a cookbook and received more than 60 awards, the latest being in 2023 when they received the “Best Educational Programme (SME)” at the 85th IOH Awards and “Social Enterprise Bakery of the Year” at The National Bakery Awards. These are quite a pair of achievements that go on to prove their credibility.
The Ministry of Justice praised the Clink Charity for contributing to a positive social change.
The Clink Charity still continues on a meaningful journey with a strong positive impact on society. In 2019, The Ministry of Justice reported that The Clink Charity’s restaurant training for prisoners has delivered results by reducing reoffending rates. Graduates from the Brixton Prison restaurant had an 11% reoffending rate, in contrast to inmates from other prisons. Interestingly, those not involved in this restaurants project had reoffending rates of 37% within a year of release and 62% for sentences under a year.
The prisoners are provided with job skills and training while inside the prison. According to the Clink Charity’s official website, the charity has provided 320,000 hours of training to 441 prisoners. Furthermore, the charity has had 104 graduates released into the real world. As a result, approximately 280 employers are eager to provide them with opportunities. Chris Moore, the chief executive of The Clink restaurant, asserts that their ‘Through the Gate’ program ensures that they ‘meet’ the inmates at the gate after release and provide them with full support and assistance in their next steps in the free world. Importantly, most of the time, getting support at this phase is the most determining factor in preventing inmates from reoffending.
Hats off to the charity for bestowing upon the prisoners a renewed chance at life. The world can never have too many tales of positive social transformation that begin as small seeds and grow into flourishing flowers year after year. And when that story is as delectable as this one, its momentum is definitely going to be unstoppable!
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