When you work in events, Christmas is always a bit of a rat-race! Your mind is so focused on getting final numbers, guest arrival times shifting, inhaling your fifteenth turkey dinner before the DJ starts, and trying not to get the inevitable Christmas soundtrack getting stuck in your head. Anyone else still playing Wham-ageddon? Usually our team Christmas lunch is a quick trip to one of Greenwich's many restaurants for a bite to eat before rushing back to the office. This year, however, was different.
I asked the team:
What would you like to do for Christmas?
The answer came quickly and was immediately agreed upon. We would go to The Clink Restaurant at HMP Brixton. Having worked with The Clink Events for a few years, every member of the team has been blown away by the ethos of the company, the splendid food and the outstanding service. Where better, we thought, to get into the festive spirit than to support this wonderful charity and give back a little.
For those of you unfamiliar with The Clink Charity, the original concept was created by Alberto Crisci MBE, then catering manager at HMP High Down in Surrey. He recognised real potential in the people working in the kitchens and introduced accredited City & Guilds NVQ training. The first public restaurant launched in 2009 at HMP Downview, staffed entirely (chefs/servers/hosts) by current inmates all studying for their NVQs.
The Clink is a multi-award winning UK charity with a proven track record in reducing reoffending. They achieve this through training and intensively supporting people in and leaving prisons for careers in hospitality, food production and horticulture. In this way, they help people rebuild their lives, supporting and rehabilitating them as they return to their local communities. The Clink is a unique charity, operating restaurants within prisons that are open to the public, a bakery based in Brixton, two Clink Gardens and Clink Events, a prestigious operation serving the City of London from HMP Downview women's prison in Surrey. In 2022, they supported 70% of their graduates into employment!
The Clink clearly demonstrates what can be achieved when society collectively engages to help those who want and deserve a second chance. Supporting graduates towards a life free of offending is what makes The Clink different – and effective.
So, Reader, I booked.
Then you're in. The restaurant itself is situated in the old governor's house dating back to 1819, is fully air conditioned and has oodles of natural daylight. The students welcome you, take you to your seats, introduce themselves. The gentleman serving us took time to go through the dietary requirements of those in my team, learning our names, answering questions on the menu, bringing us our non-alcoholic cocktails and subsequent dishes with better service than you get in some high-end restaurants!
We had the Christmas lunch, a full three course extravaganza of deliciousness. The food was inventive and traditional, with your expected Turkey fare but also homemade soups, fresh pasta, beef, and a Yorkshire pudding so huge and delicious you could wear it as a hat if you hadn't eaten it so quickly! The only thing we had to get used to was not having our phones on us and not being able to check our emails - not a bad thing in my opinion!
We had crackers, wore our paper hats, and enjoyed our own and the students' company. Every person we met throughout the lunch was engaged, professional and dedicated. We whiled away three hours in wonderful company, paid our bill and were waved goodbye.
The team have not been able to stop talking to each other and their colleagues, friends and family about the experience. Hospitality, so often seen as something frivolous or a luxury, is proved here to be a valid form of rehabilitation and of validation. Alongside the food is served a plateful of hope for something better, and the opportunity to support a scheme that improves the lives of vulnerable people and offers the chance of a stronger future.
Thank you to The Clink Charity and all our servers for this wonderful experience.