Wandsworth’s celebrity cafe fights to keep ex-convicts working

By Camomile Shumba
April 17 2020, 21:12

Battersea’s Social Pantry Café will need government grants to keep hiring ex-convicts and re-open in summer.

The Social Pantry catering company served Hillary Clinton, Rihanna, Sir David Attenborough and in February hosted Manon Lagrève from the Great British Bake Off.

CEO Alex Head from Earlsfield, a 34-year-old mum, bought and renamed what was Munchies in 2013 and has closed the café temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miss Head explained she hires former prisoners as she believes in giving people a second chance.

She said: “I got expelled from school when I was 16.

“I remember having one food fight and being the instigator of a huge food fight, I think that was one reason I got expelled.

“I understand what it is like to be given a second chance, and I just thought why not employ ex-offenders? They are passionate. They are driven.”

 Miss Head continued: “So we have had Ray who was the star of the show.

 “He was an absolutely brilliant barista.”

 The Social Pantry company partners with charities that aim to help ex-convicts such as Novus, Prison Prevention Programme, Key 4 Life and more.

 Food fights were not the only source of the café owner’s love for community and food.

She said: “I always enjoyed cooking, I grew up with my granny and my mum cooking and, for us it was all about eating healthy food and sitting around the table.

 “Some of my best memories were with food really.”

 After graduating from catering at Oxford Brookes University, Miss Head started her catering company with £350 and a friend’s laptop.

Miss Head said: “It is important to be reactive and to make sure that you have a lot of support around you.”

The Social Pantry hopes customers will return after lockdown.

Miss Head said: “Hopefully everyone will love eating local and support local.”

Miss Head said her company is taking all the support that it can, and it will apply for all available government grants.

Wandsworth Council has been awarded £10.8 million pounds from the government.

£1.9 million will go towards paying council tax bills for those on universal credit.

£8.8 million pounds of that money will form the Covid-19 Emergency Fund for the Wandsworth community which businesses have access to.

Businesses can apply for government grants through their local banks.

Wandsworth’s Chamber of Commerce chief executive Steve Pinto, 34, of Queens Wood Avenue said: “We need to keep businesses alive, they are the lifeblood of the country.”

“The government are doing a grand job on the big issues but we really do need to get cash into our businesses to allow them to stay open and viable.

“The last thing we want is for businesses to go out of business, that means a lot of jobs for lots of people and almost starting again.”

Mr Pinto said if we can keep businesses open, it gives us all a chance to recover after the crisis.

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