Before I write about a most inspiring day that Gerard and I recently spent in prison visiting The Clink Restaurant I will just mention Trip Advisor and the recent TV show that was shown on Channel 4, “Attack of the Trip Advisors”.
I had been contacted some months before by a researcher asking for my opinion of Trip Advisor. I happily gave them an account of my frustrations with the site and the fact that it is so poorly “policed” and managed by the Trip Advisor administration and that not all reviewers offer a fair and balanced opinion of places they review; thus I was waiting for the show with some anticipation. Overall, I thought it was good TV viewing, but I am shocked and saddened that there are people out there, (reviewers), who are so vindictive, small minded, unthinking and unrepentant about their actions… in essence they are bullies and Trip Advisor gives them a platform to be such. Some of the footage was obviously edited well to make for good TV and not all of the hoteliers came across as well as they would probably have liked, but Trip Advisor is a very emotive subject. How demeaning for “Joe Public” that the people who represented them as Trip Advisor reviewers were all such bullies…. Of course there are fair minded people who genuinely want to use Trip Advisor as a useful tool and help others make an informed, fair and balanced decision based on other people’s opinions, but isn’t it telling that no one from Trip Advisor appeared, was quoted or even mentioned… they have many legal proceedings lodged against them currently and so perhaps that is why their profile was so low in the TV show, but in my opinion, they have created a monster which is now completely out of control and I feel sure that the general public will soon come to realise that unfortunately some of the most avid reviewers just don’t seem to have the right attitude when it comes to fairly reviewing places that they stay.
Enough of Trip Advisor and onto something altogether more inspiring. ………
On Tuesday, Gerard and I were invited to a lunch at The Clink Restaurant, a wholly new concept, as it is the first and currently only commercial restaurant to be built inside a working British prison. It is based at H.M.P High Down, in Sutton, Surrey and is the brainchild of Alberto Crisci, MBE. In fact you may well have seen a documentary about The Clink on TV a few months ago… I only caught the tail end of the programme at the time, but it intrigued me and so Gerard and I were thrilled to be invited along to see first hand the amazing work that Al and his team are doing.
To quote from the restaurant’s own literature….
“Within the restaurant prisoners prepare, cook and serve seasonal food to members of the public and prison staff. Representing a genuine opportunity for change, The Clink combines accredited training with first- class practical experience in an exciting operational business”.
It does indeed do that, but there is so much more to tell- this training programme gives hope to those who have none, it gives them a sense of belonging, of being worthy of being bothered with and hands them back some self respect and confidence. In the first 18 months of operation 13 graduates were released. Three were deported as was planned and they are now working abroad and the other 10 were found jobs in the UK, within the Hospitality industry…. Since then the success rate has improved still further with latest figures (as at October 2011) showing that 25 have been released –
-21 jobs were found for them
-3 of those 25 re offended
-18 still working and in contact with The Clink
They are not left to merely find their feet and get on with it, as this is often what causes them to be unable to cope and re-offend, instead they are mentored and looked after. They are helped to find full-time employment in the Hospitality sector, helped to find accommodation, set up a bank account and anything else that helps them to re-integrate back into society. Whilst 3 of those initial 10 have sadly re-offended and are back in prison, 7 of them are still in employment. The national average of re-offending within the first year of release is 50% and if they have no job or home to go to on leaving prison this rises to a shocking 74%, thus the success of The Clink thus far, albeit on its small scale proves that the programme works.
Yesterday Gerard and I met some of the current 22 prisoners who are on this year’s programme. Those we spoke to were polite, charming, well mannered and so obviously proud of being involved in such an inspiring programme. Many of these offenders have arrived in prison through abysmal family backgrounds, or in fact the lack of any family values, guidance and intervention. They have shown poor judgement and been led into a life of crime, but in many cases of those we spoke to at the prison yesterday, often it was the circumstances that had stacked up to make crime the easiest or sometimes only option, until The Clink offered them a different path.
Gerard and I feel that The Clink Charity has much to offer and we are pleased to be involved with the charity. Gerard is going to be offering his time and expertise in the New Year and I hope I too can be involved in some way. There are plans to build further Clink training restaurants around the country with three already planned. In the words of the Clink Founder and trustee of the charity, Alberto Crisci, MBE:
“The Clink will change the public’s perception of prisoners. I want The Clink to be the sound of chains being broken for men who want and deserve a second chance at life”……. Alberto and his team are very special and we hope most sincerely that they can continue to offer hope and inspiration to many more prisoners as time goes by…… The idea of The Clink is inspired and it deserves to be recognized as helping to change people’s lives for the better.
Till next week