October 25 2014 Latest news:
Peter Walsh, Crime correspondent
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
A new cafe has opened at Norwich Prison in a bid to help make Norfolk a safer place by offering serving inmates work experience and training opportunities - and help them break the cycle of crime when they are released.
Cafe Britannia, which is based at Britannia Barracks, part of the prison, is run as a social enterprise and gives prisoners the chance to work within the kitchen and front of house, helping them to gain the catering and hospitality skills they need to be more employable and, therefore, have a real alternative to crime on their release from prison.
The cafe has been created by Davina Tanner, general manager of the Chapelfield shopping centre, in partnership with HMP Norwich and a team of local business supporters.
The idea behind the scheme, like with the Chapelfield Custody and Community project which has seen the shopping centre working with the prison for the past four years to help give prisoners training and employment opportunities, was to try and cut re-offending.
She said: “If prisoners find jobs they are less likely to re-offend which benefits all of us and this is just an extension of that - it’s about reducing re-offending.”
Miss Tanner said one prisoner who, for the last 14 years, has been part of that “revolving door” of crime spoke to her about working on the scheme because he wanted to break that cycle of crime.
She said: “He wanted to come from another prison to Norwich because of the opportunities we give to prisoners. He wants to change his life and we want to work with him to change his life.”
The site, a former officers’ mess, had been empty for four to five years before last summer when prisoners started to transform the site to prepare for the opening of the cafe in January which will be officially opened to the public later this month.
Dave Nicholson, head of reducing re-offing at HMP Norwich, said: “The whole idea is to have a facility where prisoners can get qualifications working here and provide a service to the community, also its got to be self financing.”
Mr Nicholson said there are currently eight serving prisoners working in the cafe, all of whom are in Britannia House, the open part of the prison, and who have been risk assessed to ensure they are of a low risk to the public.
They carry out a number of roles including cooking, cleaning and front of house, and have the opportunity to gain a range of qualifications in the hospitality sector which should stand them in good stead for when they are released.
Customers cannot leave tips for prisoners but donations to Victim Support are welcomed.
Mr Nicholson said the feedback from prisoners working at the cafe had been very positive. He said: “I think they love it. It gives them a sense of purpose. It’s a sense of reality as well - this is what they should be doing when they leave prison.”
Andy Lee, 29, a serving prisoner, has worked at the cafe since it opened in January. He said: “It’s getting us to reintegrate with the public so when we get out its not such a shock to the system.”
The prisoner added that he hoped the training and experience he received while working at the cafe would provide him with a “good stepping stone for my release”.
Mr Nicholson said it is hoped that in future ex-offenders as well as serving prisoners might be offered work at the cafe which is currently open seven days a week - 7.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 2pm on Saturday and 10am to 4pm on Sunday.
As well as Chapelfield other businesses have helped get the cafe scheme off the ground including, Plain Speaking PR, FOUR Agency and East Coast Building and Maintenance Services but bosses at the project would like to hear from more businesses in the area looking to get involved.