Helping homeless and unemployed people to clean up

A not-for-profit company in Australia has started a mobile laundry service for people who are homeless. Using two washing machines and two dryers, Orange Sky are able to clean clothes for around ten people an hour. My favourite aspect of this invaluable service is that Orange Sky work alongside organisations which provide food to local homeless people, so that their clothes can be washed while they eat.

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Meanwhile, back in England, Timpsons recently announced they will provide free dry cleaning for anyone who is unemployed and needs their clothes cleaned to attend an interview.

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You can read more about why Timpsons have chosen to offer this service here, as well as the reasons why the firm is one of the few UK employers to recruit ex-convicts here.

Eating Alcatraz style

Years ago whilst visiting friends in California, I travelled to San Francisco. I had to go to Alcatraz while I was there, of course, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable tourist attractions I’ve ever visited. So much so, I even contemplated returning for one of prison’s famous night tours but – ahem – I was too chicken!

The rules the inmates were made to follow during their stay in Alcatraz are displayed on various walls around the prison. Even though these regulations were set for a purpose, taken out of context many of them can be quite amusing. For example:

29. BATH ROOM RULES: When you go to the bathroom you will display all items of soiled clothing before the inspecting Officer. You are expected to bathe in a reasonable length of time.

30. CELLHOUSE RULES: Loud talking, shouting, whistling, singing or other unnecessary noises are not permitted. Keep your property neatly arranged on your shelves, as shown in the cell diagram.

34. HAIRCUTS AND SHAVES: Haircuts will be of regulation type. No special beards, mustaches or goatees are allowed.

40. AUDITORIUM RULES: When preparing to attend religious services or movies, you must remove everything from your pockets except your handkerchief and eyeglasses and eyeglass case.

I’m very curious to know what a ‘special beard’ is exactly! But here’s the section of the rule book that grabbed my attention when reading the rules again online today:

33. DINING ROOM RULES: Meals are served three times a day in the dining room. Do not exceed the ration. Do not waste food. Do not carry food from the dining room. Observe the ration posted on the menu board and take all that you wish to eat within the allotted amounts, but you must eat all that you take. When all inmates on a table have finished eating, the inspecting Officer will give the signal to rise and leave the dining room.

I’m not sure about Alcatraz’s facial hair policies, but their food regulations are spot on: only take as much food as you can eat, sit down at the table to eat it, eat it with other people, and don’t leave the table until everyone has finished. The regulations sound uncannily like the type of straight-talking advice Michael Pollan includes in his Food Rules book, (which is based on In Defense of Food, one of my non-fiction favourites).

With today’s British food culture of munching on the move and chomping while flicking through TV channels, alongside the demise of family dining and the proliferation of all you can eat buffets, I reckon we could learn some lessons in how to eat sensibly and minimise food waste from the unlikely source of Alcatraz’s simple dining room rules.

Dining with a difference

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?!

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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…

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