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‘Excellent’ food, with a generous helping of rehabilitation

05 April 2024

The Clink

The Clink Restaurant at HM Prison Styal, in Cheshire

The Clink Restaurant at HM Prison Styal, in Cheshire

THE latest review of a fine-dining restaurant at HM Prison Styal, in Cheshire, where the food is prepared and cooked by female prisoners who are studying for qualifications in the catering trades, has described it as “A taste of redemption”.

Reviews refer to its location in a converted 100-year-old chapel just outside the formal perimeter of the prison grounds. Many features of the chapel were retained, including the organ pipes, the vaulted ceiling, and the stained-glass windows. It opened as The Clink, Styal, in April 2015.

“Culinary excellence meets social rehabilitation here,” the website I Love Manchester says. Besides praising the food as something that “would not be out of place in some of Manchester’s high-end restaurants”, it describes The Clink as “a transformative space where offenders get a second chance in life”.

The charity works with the Prison and Probation Service to train and rehabilitate people in prison and reduce reoffending rates. People with between three and 24 months of their sentence left to serve volunteer for the programme, going through full-time training in a simulated professional working environment while working towards City and Guilds National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).

Styal is the second of its restaurants: its Brixton counterpart — the first to be set up — was TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice restaurant for 2022, placing it in the top ten per cent of restaurants worldwide. Clink trained 900 students in 40 prisons in the UK in 2023, delivered about 550 NVQ qualifications, and placed 52 per cent of students into employment. It now employs 80 staff.

Finlay Scott, the charity’s chair and co-founder, with Kevin McGrath, became interested in the rehabilitation of inmates after a Business in the Community event organised by the Prince’s Trust. “Groups of businessmen were taken to witness first-hand issues they were unlikely to encounter in their own environment. My group visited prisons,” he told the Church Times.

“What really struck me was, a prisoner was released with £46 (increasing to £76 in 2021) and their possessions in a bin liner. If the prisoner didn’t have a home, a job, or a relationship, they were set up to fail, with little hope of rehabilitation. I decided to focus my philanthropic efforts into this space.

“My ‘day job’ has always been in the private sector, but my philanthropic work with The Clink has been the most rewarding thing I have done in my life.”

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, is a trustee of the charity. The Styal chapel had had the same new lease of life as Clink graduates looked forward to after their release, he said. “Chef trainers teach to a range of industry-recognised qualifications, whilst other Clink staff work with prisoners around their time of release, supporting them in their return to life outside the gates.

“Whilst the restaurants are the most visible face of The Clink’s work, many more men and women are working for their qualifications in prison kitchens. Others prepare food as part of the Clink events-catering programme, bringing the same high quality to corporate hospitality functions, particularly in the London area.

“As a trustee of the charity, I may have a degree of bias, but, as the large number of positive reviews now appearing in mainstream newspapers, magazines, and on websites indicate, I’m far from alone in thinking it a great way to enjoy top-class dining whilst knowing every penny I spend is going to make a real difference.”

The Bishop had responded on social media to the latest accolade for The Clink, delighting in yet further endorsement of its “enabling prisoners to build new lives, one forkful at a time”.

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