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Young inmates ready to serve more than porridge

By Jamie Stinson

Published 19/05/2015

A young offenders centre in Northern Ireland will be serving more than sentences when it opens a pop-up restaurant.

The Cooking Behind Bars initiative at Hydebank Wood aims to end the inmates' cycle of reoffending and help the young men turn their lives around.

The fortnight-long project starts tomorrow and will focus on healthy eating, showcasing produce grown on site.

Those taking part will learn the ins and outs of running a restaurant, such as organisation, food hygiene, quality of ingredients, knife and cooking skills, and marketing.

Projects of this type have been remarkably successful elsewhere. In England and Wales Clink Charity has used cooking to reduce re-offending through its restaurants and events business since 2009.

If Cooking Behind Bars is successful at Hydebank, it could see the scheme rolled out to Maghaberry and Magilligan.

The 16 men taking part in the scheme have already worked in the prison's cafe, and have a good disciplinary record, good relationships with others, and are quite mature, governor Austin Treacy said.

Mr Treacy believes Cooking Behind Bars will have a huge effect. "Not to put too fine a point on it, I think it will be transformational. Because it is much more than preparing meat and two veg. It's all the stuff you see on TV shows."

The young men will focus on fresh food and healthy eating to get away from culture of fast food and frozen meals that many men of a similar age are all to reliant on. Hydebank is already looking to be more self-sufficient, growing some produce within its grounds, as well as keeping chickens and goats.

The cooking experience has provided a different path for the young men's future, when they did not see hospitality as a career choice.

"They have displayed a real flair and natural aptitude for this (cooking), but they might have traditionally had the view they wanted to do the more stereotypically macho jobs, joinery, bricklaying, all the rest of it," Mr Treacy said.

"If you are socially excluded seeing the TV chefs and that kind of experience is a million miles away, but this way gives a bit of a window into that world and a taste of that world."

"It's about getting people to think, 'Actually I have skills, I could work there'."

The inmates will be cooking for family, staff and other students.

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