Behind the imposing walls of HMP Brixton the future is looking sweet for those determined to leave their criminal pasts behind them and cook up a storm in the world of baking.
Two years after Gordon Ramsay’s inmate-staffed Bad Boys’ Bakery featured in the Channel 4 series Gordon Behind Bars, the prison has seen more than 100 eager bakers pass through its gates to rejoin society.
The potty-mouthed chef’s vision has been kept alive by service provider Working Links which helps reduce social exclusion and poverty – and now sees their sweet treats sold in Lambeth and across London.
Links Operations Manager, Abigail Conway-Todd, believes the project’s success is not just to be counted in scones and stockists.
“The success story is not the sales and quality of the delicious pastry, but how the boys change through the experience,” she said.
“Whenever someone comes in to see the boys they’re always amazed at the difference in them and how much ownership they take of what they’re doing and what they’re making.”
The 12-week programme is for those with a minimum of six months left to serve and has whipped up a number of success stories.
Chris McKay is one of the Bad Boys who left HMP Brixton and used his baking experience to embrace a sweeter future.
After his release, the father of three was eager to stay involved in the project and with the help of the Sola Outreach programme he set up his own market stall where he now sells the bakery’s products.
Another Bad Boy alumni Nicholas Himonas served a two-and-half-year sentence for burglary.
Mr. Himonas took part in the programme and now runs the Smokey Bandit Grill burger house in Shoreditch.
What’s different between the Bad Boy’s Bakery and other types of prison work is that the hours, conditions and responsibility resemble those of normal employment.
‘Some come as early as 7 o’clock, some come at 8 o’clock – they work all day and have their lunch here,” Ms Conway-Todd explained.
“Then they’re off to work in the afternoon in order to get the products out and that’s teaching them about having to meet deadlines.
“The people who buy our products don’t buy them because it’s a nice thing to do but because they’re of top quality and they taste really good.”
The Kitchen Nightmares restaurateur is a frequent visitor to the bakery and still oversees the launch of new products.
“Gordon tends to visit on very short notice or when he’s in the area,” Ms Conway-Todd said.
“Any new products that we decide to do we run past him because he is very interested in keeping the high quality.”
Inside and outside the gates the Boys receive support from Working Links and a dedicated case manager is by their side to help them plan a positive future.
A Ministry of Justice study last June revealed that more than 30% of those who completed the course are now in employment and just 3% have gone on to reoffend.
“Yes they do make fabulous cakes and sun breads, but that’s not the point of the programme,” Ms Conway-Todd smiled.
“The product is actually the boys themselves.”