Chris Moore joined The Clink Charity as chief executive in 2010, six months after the initiative, which trains prisoners to work in food service, food preparation and horticulture, was founded. Before joining The Clink, Chris racked up almost 30 years in the hospitality industry, training with the Holiday Inn Hotel Group in New York before working with the Hilton Hotel Group in the UK and Holland for five years. He was restaurants general manager at luxury department store Harrods Ltd for eight years before moving to Fenwick Ltd where he spent 13 years creating and operating 37 restaurants across 12 sites as head of group restaurants.
The reason the Clink Charity started was to break the cycle of reoffending and allow prisoners to leave prison with meaningful qualifications and experience. We could place them into work in the hospitality industry to a) fulfil the skills shortage in the hospitality and b) break that cycle of crime. Offenders could come out of prison, get a job with a salary and get their lives back on track. We’ve had tremendous success in doing that in the last nine years. We’ve placed over 1,800 men and women into work and we have one of the lowest reoffending rates in the UK as an organisation.
We’ve had tremendous success in training people in prison and keeping them out of them, but we also said ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could stop them going to prison in the first place’, so we set up Clink Events in London and the Clink Cafe in Manchester exactly for that purpose.
We opened a cafe on the high street for the first time in May this year. The Clink Cafe in Manchester has exactly the same ethos as the Clink. It takes graduates from Styal and ex-offenders we haven’t known before, as well as clients from several homeless charities. We train them up in a real-life cafe working environment – in areas such as customer service, barista skills and food hygiene – and once they have got their qualifications we’ll facilitate their employment into the Manchester area.
Clink Events was set up 18 months ago, mainly in the London area. The food is made in prison by serving prisoners and then we take it out in secure transport to venues. Clink Events is one of the 15 nominated caterers for the Guildhall in London where we’re up against people like a Mossimann’s and we do events, such as the Evening Standard Awards for 400 people and we did an afternoon tea for the inauguration of the Bishop of London for 900. To staff events we’re using homeless clients from homeless charity Centerpoint and Clink graduates and we’re training them up in the community. They’ll do several events with us over several weeks or months. Once they’ve gained their NVQ City & Guilds qualification we’ll then make sure they have accommodation to be able to go into full-time employment. If they are having a bit of a wobble we’re helping them to get their lives back on track before potentially they go down the wrong route which could be straight to prison.
Clink Events had 18 months of due diligence checks to make sure we were up to standards of a nominated catering company. We aren’t there as the token charity, we’re there because we’re credible competition for the other 14 caterers. It’s a great thing for corporate clients who can spend the same money with us and get the same quality of food and service, but also know that their corporate social responsibility targets are being met. Plus, all the money made will be going back into the project and will change more lives.
The Clink also teaches life skills. We teach horticulture in the gardens and catering in the restaurant and graduates get their certificate in NVQ Level 2 which they will have worked hard for, but just as importantly, it’s the soft skills, such as having a shower in the morning, combing your hair and going to work and being proud of what you do, learning to work as part of a team and gaining confidence in yourself that we teach. Sadly these are things many haven’t had so far in life. They may have had a tough start, they may have struggled at school and may have been told their useless or not worth it, so to build someone up and say ‘You’ve done well here, I’m proud of you’ is something we are proud of doing.
I employed hundreds of people a year as director of catering for Harrods, at Hilton and other places, but never employed an ex-offender. If I’d seen that box ticked I’d think ‘ooh, I’m not sure’. What’s been really good at The Clink is we can bring employers in, they can see the standard we get the guys to and then realise that the prison population is just a cross-section of society and no different to the normal workforce, so by doing that the industry has really got behind us.
We are a credible solution to the skills shortage and the industry is very much behind us. All our men and women are classically trained. Nothing is brought in ready-made to our kitchens. The meat comes in whole and the fish comes in unfilleted. We make our own ice cream, pasta, soups and sauces, so they can go into any kitchen, hold their own and do very well. One chef who left Brixton two years’ ago is working at a private members’ club I London and got onto Bake Off: The Professionals this year, also another chap we’ve got working at an AA-rosette restaurant in Scotland entered into Game Chef of the Year so they are doing very well in their own right.
We work with 280 employers who have all said they will employ graduates subject to a satisfactory interview. There isn’t a day that goes by when we haven’t got an employer contacting us saying, look I’ve got a vacancy, do you have anybody?’ and sadly there are times when I haven’t got anybody, so the more people I can have to place the better. The industry has really bought into what we do.
I’m proud of what I do here every day, on many levels. Ultimately we’ve got a team of people who were brought in to work at and support The Clink to change peoples’ lives and there’s nothing that gives you a stronger sense of achievement as a team than going into a restaurant and seeing one of your guys who was locked up inside and coming to the training days being out in the restaurant, free and back with their family, re-integrated back into society and doing very well in their own right.
We don’t mind what graduates of The Clink do. The majority do go into catering, but as long as it’s legal we encourage them. We placed a young lad at the RADA headquarters five years ago to work for contract caterer Harbour & Jones. After two years he asked if he could apply to go on a RADA course. We supported him and managed to get some funding for him and he’s now just finished a season on stage at the National Theatre in a production of Macbeth as an actor. He’s done very well for himself. Somebody I used to see in prison on a daily or weekly basis five years ago to seeing him at the National Theatre on stage. That is very impressive. I’m proud, but pleased that he’s made a difference in his own life with the help and support we as a team have been able to give him.
The guys who get jobs get them in their own right. We might help with the introduction, but if they’re not able to cook or the right person, the employer would not offer them the job. There are no favours, they’ve got to stand up on their own feet and be accountable for what they can, or can’t do.
There are a lot of people who have helped and encouraged me over the years. I worked for Mohammed Al Fayed for eight years and he was a great inspiration to me. He taught me that if you’re going to do something, do it once and do it properly.
When I joined The Clink in 2010, the charity was six months’ old. We had two employees in the restaurant and were training about 12 prisoners a day. Wind forward eight years and we’ve got almost 60 employees and are training up to 200 prisoners a day in prison, working with 200 homeless clients in the community and are supporting at least 200 Clink graduates out in the community now working in their first job. We’re coaching 600 people over 11 sites on a daily basis with a large team so it has changed completely.
Our latest project is a twist on The Clink. We are piloting a scheme that puts chef trainers in to main prison kitchens. There are about 105 prisons in England and Wales where every day 2,000 prisoners cook 85,000 meals for serving prisoners. They do it very well, but when the majority of them leave prison – while they’ve had that valuable experience – they haven’t got qualifications or a certificate to show what they’ve been doing. What we’re doing now is putting chef trainers into prison kitchens, to help cooks with their skills and support them towards getting their NVQ Level 1 and 2 in food production and preparation. We’ve piloted three very successfully – in Risley, Styal and Bristol and now were are about to roll it out to 75 prisons across the UK. It’s the next step for us and one we’re very excited about.
Hospitality & Catering News, Interviews Editor