Following my last post about primary children in the UK now being entitled to free school lunches, I thought I’d continue the lunch theme. While the lunch I’m going to tell you about definitely isn’t free, it’s not possible to pay for it by debit or credit card.
First let me take you back to around this time ten years ago, when I got a few of my university mates together for some birthday drinks. I remember being pleased that all of my friends had turned up, and still have a lovely photo from the evening that reminds me of my glory days when I had that naïve, twenty-something feeling of anything being possible.
That birthday – my twenty fifth – is the last I recall actually bothering to celebrate. Birthdays since seem to have either been spent in a secret bah humbug style grump, or have simply passed by as an ordinary day at work. Susan Cain’s fantastic book Quiet eventually made me understand not wanting to be in the limelight or to have a fuss made of you on your birthday is completely normal when you’re an introvert like me. Phew!
So back to lunch. For some reason, this year I’ve decided to be greedy (justifiable after so many uncelebrated birthdays), and am having dinner at the fabulous vegetarian Gate restaurant, followed by lunch a few days later in a prison. Yup. A prison.
The prison in question happens to be High Down in Surrey. While many prisons are famed for their overcrowded and poor conditions, High Down’s reputation is built on its restaurant, The Clink. Great name, eh?!
The Clink is staffed by inmates who have the opportunity to be trained in areas of the restaurant business. The overall aim is
to reduce re-offending rates by training and placing graduates, upon their release, into employment in the hospitality industry
Judging by the statistics, the programme is very successful; the rate of High Down prisoners who re-offend is far below the UK average (a whopping 49% of prisoners commit another crime in their first year of release).
I’ve received very specific instructions from the restaurant as to what to bring with me (passport), and what to leave behind in a locker at reception (camera, mobile phone, bank cards and cash exceeding £50). As you’d expect, we will be subject to airport style security before being allowed to proceed from reception to the restaurant itself.
I honestly can’t remember being this excited about the arrival of my birthday. I’m confident prison dining will prove to be a culinary hit and if I’m lucky, I might even get a cake! I’ll let you know…