Fred Sirieix’s prisoner-run restaurants to expand to boost hospitality skills

First Dates star's charity turns prison mess kitchens into high street style restaurants and trains inmates in hospitality skills.

First Dates star's charity turns prison mess kitchens into high street style restaurants and trains inmates in hospitality skills.

18 Jul 2022, 14:10

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A charity formed by First Dates star Fred Sirieix to train prisoners in the hospitality industry is set to expand its work to its third prison before the end of the year.

The Right Course was formed by the TV star back in 2017 and sees staff kitchens in prisons turned into high street style training restaurants, run by inmates to teach them industry-level skills and help secure them jobs on release.

The project launched at the category C HMP Isis at Thamesmead with the DM Thomas Foundation, with a second refurbished staff canteen launched at HMP Wormwood Scrubs in 2021.

At Monday’s Novus Moving On conference around the future of prison education, Sirieix and The Right Course chief executive Simon Sheehan told FE Week that a third kitchen is due to open at HMP Berwyn in the next two or three months.

The pair have plans to continue rolling out the project further.

Sheehan said: “It has been growing and we are just keen to get more and more sites that want to have a high street restaurant within the prison, and it’s a great training environment too.

“We are going around visiting various prisons and seeing if they have got suitable facilities. Some need much more investment than others just to get a restaurant that can produce the quality of food we want, and also to become an environment where people want to eat, otherwise it will fall apart. You need customers like any business who want to come in and spend their money.”

The team has not set annual targets for new restaurants, but confirmed it is looking at having the third restaurant up and running in the next few months at HMP Berwyn.

Sirieix added: “The Right Course is working but it will only work and make a real difference when it is rolled out at scale across the prison estate.

“Not all prisons are suitable, but maybe 50 or 60 per cent will be suitable. Everybody needs to be fed, there are restaurants in every single prison. So instead of just feeding them, feed them by creating a workshop that is training people and giving them skills.

“We are ready to roll it out, we have got the team – Simon is doing an incredible job meeting governors, meeting prisons and meeting education providers, and it is a case of people embracing and understanding there is a real need.”

The journey started when one of the teachers for Sirieix’s daughter was mugged outside of school and visiting a prison Sirieix recognised that staff messes were the perfect place to teach offenders new skills.

According to the charity, 61 prisoners commenced the programme in the first two years, with 95 per cent of them gaining at least one level 2 NVQ in areas such as front of house, catering and food production or barista.

It said that 50 per cent of its 2019 candidates eligible for release gained employment in the industry.

There are also hopes it can address the recruitment shortfalls in the hospitality industry.

Sirieix said: “When you think about the staff shortage in hospitality where there are hundreds of thousands of vacancies now, they are not going to be filled because these vacancies were filled by EU workers and now we are out of the EU. So the people who were coming for those jobs are not going to come.

“The solution for hospitality businesses is either you employ the very few people who are trained and have experience, or you get people walking in from the street. So the people we are training they have already got the experience, they have already got the skills and they have got a minimum of knowledge with what the job is about.

“People say they are ex-prisoners, can we trust them? We have to believe in redemption and forgiveness, and also we have to give people chances and opportunities.”

For prisoners, Sirieix said they love the work because it gives them a sense of satisfaction and achievement, as well as transferable skills regardless of whether they later get a job in the industry.

Sheehan added: “You see the learners through their journey on the course, that confidence really does build. Prison strips a lot of it out of them, but this is a good stepping stone back to when they are coming up to release.”

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