In­mates to serve up meat-free meals for din­ers ... in their prison

Scottish Daily Mail - - Life - By John Jef­fay

IT is the last place you might ex­pect to go for a meal.

But in­mates at a max­i­mum se­cu­rity prison want to open a ve­gan restau­rant serv­ing the pub­lic.

The plan in­volves turn­ing a dis­used so­cial club at Perth Prison into a cafe and bistro called The Yew Tree.

The project, the first of its kind in Scot­land, is be­ing led by a lo­cal so­cial busi­ness, Start­ing Step.

The Yew Tree – named af­ter a his­toric tree in the grounds of HMP Castle Huntly, near Dundee – would be open to the pub­lic as a cafe ini­tially, with plans to of­fer a ‘fine din­ing’ restau­rant ex­pe­ri­ence in the evenings.

The idea is to train in­mates and peo­ple with con­vic­tions to give them a sec­ond chance. It will also of­fer help to peo­ple with drug and al­co­hol-re­lated men­tal health is­sues, as well as pro­vid­ing jobs for peo­ple out­with the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

In a state­ment to plan­ners, Start­ing Step says: ‘Trainees will be able to de­velop their skills and reap the ben­e­fits of a real work en­vi­ron­ment. They will be able to in­ter­act with mem­bers of the pub­lic, where there will be no at­tached stig­mas of their past mis­takes. This will bring an added pos­i­tive out­come of break­ing down bar­ri­ers be­tween com­mu­nity and clients.’

In 2012, chef Gor­don Ram­say ap­peared in a Chan­nel 4 show called Gor­don Be­hind Bars, in which he at­tempted to pass on culi­nary skills to pris­on­ers at Lon­don’s tough Brix­ton Prison. The in­mates went on to set up Bad Boys’ Bak­ery, which made cakes and wraps that went on to be sold in 11 branches of Caffè Nero in Lon­don.

Start­ing Step chief ex­ec­u­tive Dodie Pid­dock said: ‘I had al­ways won­dered why Scot­land has such an ap­palling num­ber of peo­ple in prison. We’re one of the worst in Eu­rope per capita. I did a lot of work on fo­cus groups and I found that the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in prison need a sec­ond chance. I came away from this think­ing, “How do we do this?”.’

Miss Pid­dock said the Scot­tish Prison Ser­vice ‘prob­a­bly thought I was bonkers’ when she dis­cussed the plan with of­fi­cials.

The menu will be com­pletely plant-based, us­ing lo­cally grown pro­duce.

Miss Pid­dock said: ‘There is a grow­ing need for chefs that are able to pro­duce high-qual­ity ve­gan food.’

She added: ‘What is im­por­tant about this project is the end re­sult. I don’t want this to be just another train­ing pro­gramme, I want to do some­thing more than give hope.’

The Grade A-listed build­ing is still owned by the prison ser­vice, which is closely mon­i­tor­ing Start­ing Step’s project.

A plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion to trans­form the build­ing has been sub­mit­ted to Perth and Kin­ross Coun­cil.

Miss Pid­dock said: ‘It will be beau­ti­ful. And hope­fully it will be some­thing Perth can be proud of.’

Right recipe?: Chef Gor­don Ram­say in Chan­nel 4’s Gor­don Be­hind Bars. In­set: Perth Prison, site of planned restau­rant

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