TASTY TREATS FROM HMPASTIES
PASTY-MAKER IN MANCHESTER OFFERS A LIFELINE TO FORMER PRISONERS
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