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AT 19, Lee Wake­ham was fac­ing his sec­ond prison sen­tence, with a three year stint in Strange­ways in front of him.

Grow­ing up in care and suf­fer­ing sex­ual abuse as a child had made him ‘a re­ally an­gry young man’ - anger that sim­mered over into of­fend­ing and vi­o­lent be­hav­iour.

“I went about try­ing to make the world pay for what had hap­pened to me,” he says.

“That got me in a lot of trou­ble. I ended up in prison; 18 months when I was 17 and three years when I was 19.

“At that point I thought: ‘I need to stop this now or this is go­ing to be the rest of my life.’”

Lee, 42, now heads up the HMPasties project - run by charity Ground­work - a social en­ter­prise aim­ing to trans­form former pris­on­ers’ lives through bak­ing.

Pro­duc­ing hand­crafted pas­tries with in­gre­di­ents from prison farms, HMPasties will em­ploy ex-of­fend­ers fresh out of cus­tody, giv­ing them the skills and sup­port to build a life on the out­side.

Its first re­cruit is 23-year-old Nathan Modlin­sky, who re­cently served time for GBH. Like Lee, he saw the sen­tence as a wake-up call and used his time in­side wisely.

“I did a lot of cour­ses, a bit of coun­selling, and quite a lot of think­ing,” he says.

“When I was in prison it got me off a bad path, I met Lee, who’s put op­por­tu­ni­ties in front of me, and it’s up to me whether I grab them - and I did.

“That sup­port when I got out was the best thing that’s ever hap­pened to me be­cause where was I be­fore? I hated the world. I didn’t see any­thing pos­i­tive.”

To­gether he and Lee make tra­di­tional Cor­nish­style pasties, cheese and onion bakes and veg­gie samosas, sell­ing them at mar­kets in­clud­ing Dids­bury and Chorl­ton Mak­ers Mar­kets and Wi­gan Ar­ti­san Mar­ket, as well as FC United’s home games.

“I like go­ing out to the mar­ket and see­ing peo­ple and how they re­act to eat­ing them,” says Nathan. “I like pos­i­tiv­ity, be­cause I’ve had a lot of neg­a­tiv­ity. I’ve started to cook at home and I’m pick­ing up new skills from be­ing in the kitchen.

“It keeps you oc­cu­pied, stim­u­lated. I’m com­pet­i­tive and I do a good crimp - Lee thinks he does too, so we com­pete.”

Nathan hopes to stay on with the project and be­come a peer men­tor him­self even­tu­ally.

“There are lots of lads like Nathan in jail who, for a dif­fer­ent set of cir­cum­stances, would not be there, and that’s what HMPasties is for,” says Lee.

“We want to help peo­ple who, just for a bit of a bet­ter chance in life, would never have been in prison in the first place.”

Food and drink form the ba­sis for a num­ber of pris­oner re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion schemes, in­clud­ing Gor­don Ram­say’s Bad Boys’ Bak­ery and prison restau­rant charity The Clink, which op­er­ates at jails in­clud­ing HMP Styal and re­cently an­nounced plans to open in Manch­ester.

Bak­ing also helped Francesca Barker turn her life around. In 2013 she nar­rowly avoided jail and was sent on a bread­mak­ing course as part of her sus­pended sen­tence.

“I fell madly in love with it,” she says. “I felt worth some­thing for the first time. I made one loaf and shared it with my girl­friend when I got home.

“It was the first time I could give her some­thing, be­cause I had no money or no sense of self. In that mo­ment I re­alised I had some­thing.”

She launched The Barker Baker, mak­ing loaves to sell at mar­kets across Greater Manch­ester.

“It’s cre­ative, it’s in­di­vid­ual and it’s de­signed to share. So even if you feel you’ve taken ev­ery­thing from so­ci­ety, you’re giv­ing some­thing back.”

Five years on, Francesca is jug­gling her busi­ness with a full time job, working in mar­ket­ing for a city cen­tre restau­rant, and teach­ing ex-of­fend­ers to bake on her days off.

“A lot of peo­ple crit­i­cise the jus­tice sys­tem, but we are hu­man and we need to sup­port these peo­ple to get back into so­ci­ety,” she says.

One ini­tia­tive do­ing just that is The Clink. At HMP Styal, near Wilm­slow, the restau­rant train­ing scheme has helped to cut re­of­fend­ing rates by 41% by equip­ping in­mates with the skills and sup­port to pur­sue a ca­reer in hos­pi­tal­ity.

“Working with food is not only ther­a­peu­tic but in­volves working as part of a team,” says charity chief ex­ec­u­tive Christo­pher Moore.

“A lot of pris­on­ers are there be­cause of the fam­ily. Ei­ther the wrong fam­ily or no fam­ily. Working in a team at the restau­rants gives them that sense of be­long­ing as well as con­fi­dence, mo­ti­va­tion and pride.”

Last sum­mer all four of The Clink’s restau­rants were the top rated in their re­gion on TripAd­vi­sor. The charity aims to repli­cate their suc­cess at its new Manch­ester cafe, where the scheme’s grad­u­ates will con­tinue their train­ing.

Over in the rented Heaton Mersey kitchens of HMPasties oc­cupy, Lee is mak­ing grand plans. Armed with a £45,000 in­vest­ment and hav­ing just se­cured Na­tional Lot­tery fund­ing, the next step is per­ma­nent premises to ex­pand the bak­ery.

“I see it as a scal­able busi­ness,” he says.

“We could work with other char­i­ties who take on a HMPasties shop and a van as a fran­chise on the ba­sis that they must staff it ex­clu­sively with ex-of­fend­ers.

“I see no rea­son why this couldn’t be­come a na­tional busi­ness - all sup­plied from our lit­tle pasty fac­tory in Manch­ester.”

●● Francesca Barker

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