Food

Wagamama launches cooking classes at female prison to give inmates 'a second chance'

A team from wagamama visited HMP Downview yesterday, training up 18 inmates to cook up some of the restaurant’s classic dishes

wagamama helping prisoners

Prisoners cook up 400 meals alongside wagamama chefs. Credit: wagamama

If you’re looking for an excuse to order a cheeky takeaway tonight, this might be it. Top wagamama chefs are helping female prisoners turn their lives around – one katsu curry at a time.

A team from the popular noodle chain visited HMP Downview on Wednesday (15 November), training up 18 inmates to cook-up some of the restaurant’s classic dishes.

Dishing up mouthwatering katsu curries and bang bang cauliflower, the prison kitchen successfully fed all 300 inmates in the womens’ prison – but the partnership didn’t end when the plates were cleared away.

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Wagamama ultimately plans to offer former offenders employment upon their release, helping them to reintegrate into society and reduce reoffending. It has run similar workshops at multiple men’s prisons around the country.

“Wagamama believes that people deserve a second chance and we commit, through our people promise, ‘all on one bench’ that our teams will always feel part of our no judgement community,” a spokesperson for the chain said.

“We were proud to work with HMP Downview’s kitchen and turn it into a wagamama kitchen for the day, enabling the women to see first-hand what it is like to work back of house in one of our restaurants.”

How can having a job prevent reoffending?

More than 70,000 people are released from UK prisons each year. But without the proper reintegration support, many end up back behind bars.

Some 29% of former prisoners return to custody within 18 months of their release. The likelihood of reoffending spikes massively among those sentenced to shorter sentences – 63% of inmates who serve less than 12 months in custody will reoffend within a year of release.

Employment can change all this. Having a job provides former offenders with the security they need to rebuild their life.

But according to Ministry of Justice statistics, just 23% of former offenders released from custody between April 2021 and March 2022 were employed six months after their release.

Innovative schemes like the wagamama/Ministry of Justice partnership will help bring those numbers up.

“Getting prisoners into work is the best way to cut reoffending and keep the public safe,” said Duncan O Leary, the chief executive of New Futures. Part of the HM Prison and Probation service, New Futures Network brokers partnerships between prisons and employers.

“Some of the nation’s best-loved restaurant and pub chains are teaming up with prisons to give inmates the skills they need to secure a job on release – all while helping hospitality firms train the workforce they need to grow and thrive,” O Leary said.

It comes as shocking new figures found that the number of people rough sleeping after being released from prisons in Wales had more than trebled in a year.

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