In London, the old Victorian prisons are just there, an almost unnoticed background to everyday life; Wandsworth is over the road from my local garden centre; I drive past Holloway and Pentonville on the way to and from the in laws; my wife used to work a stone’s throw away from Wormwood Scrubs, and Brixton is just round the corner from where I get my car serviced.
Most of us have never been inside these places. Nor, given most reports about these places, would any of us much want to. But last Friday I did see inside, because I went along to lunch at The Clink in Brixton, a restaurant where the chefs and waiting staff are all prison inmates.
Actually, the inside of the prison was a bit of an anti-climax (and we saw only the area around the entrance gates) – it’s pretty much like every large Victorian structure you’ve ever been in, but with more razor wire. The restaurant itself was just like a restaurant, except that we were locked into it and the cutlery was plastic.
The food was very good – well cooked and beautifully presented. The service was pretty top-notch as well.
There’s more about the charity behind The Clink ventures (there are now five of them in prisons around the country) here. They came about when Alberto Crisci, the catering manager at High Down prison in Surrey identified a need for formal training, qualifications and support for prisoners in finding a job after release. Brixton was the third to open, in February 2014. They have been incredibly successful in reducing reoffending rates among the graduates of the scheme.
Their other benefit is that it shows people like me, prisons and prisoners, something that we would never normally have experience of. As they say on their place mats “together we can pave the way to a brighter future for those who want and deserve a second chance at life.”
I can recommend the food and the experience. It’s open for breakfast and lunch, Monday to Friday, and you can book a table here.