The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine
The cook who is serving up a second chance to ex-offenders
ALEX HEAD FIRST got a taste for running a food business while flogging sandwiches from the back of her bike, after she was expelled from school. She was 15. ‘I was so naughty,’ she tells me now, having just launched Soane’s Kitchen at Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery in Ealing, the latest outpost of her catering company, Social Pantry.
With four permanent locations and a calendar packed with events, the business has been throwing parties and feeding crowds since 2012 – as well as providing work opportunities for ex-offenders. ‘It’s about giving them another chance,’ says Head, who partners with Key4life, a charity that helps with rehabilitation after prison release, to employ men who are keen to gain experience in the food industry. Around 10 per cent of her workforce has served jail sentences, and many have been with her for years, including Suhail, who joined part-time and now leads a crew. ‘They are trusted members of my team.’
When Head isn’t serving up veggie barbecues or 12ft boards of tapas for 1,200 guests, she talks and assists at other rehabilitation organisations and advises fellow employers about mentoring. ‘After each success story, you just want to do it again.’
With more community projects in the pipeline and the Pitzhanger garden to cultivate, Head’s Social Pantry is in full bloom. ‘And we’re still making sandwiches like there’s no tomorrow.’ socialpantry.co.uk