Handing over the aprons, by Dom Gates (Employment and Training Manager)

“The London Homelessness Awards in memory of Andy Ludlow exist to recognise and celebrate innovative and sustainable projects that make a difference to homeless people.  The Providence Row Catering Trainee Scheme has been shortlisted for the 2015 awards.  We asked Dom, one of the workers at the scheme to tell us more about it, and why he thinks it is such a positive programme for people.”

Handing over the aprons, by Dom Gates (Employment and Training Manager)

When I first started working at Providence Row it was a very different place. Back then we were operating closer to the traditional soup kitchen model, serving breakfast to around 300 people every morning. They used to queue out of the door and around the block to get in. The kitchen was run by several indomitable volunteers and a chef.

I started as Catering Manager in 2010 with a remit to engage rough sleepers more with learning and training opportunities. There was a real gap in training opportunities for those currently rough sleeping, or presently affected by mental health or substance misuse problems. Other schemes required clients to be clean for a period of time. We realised that this protracted journey into training was not working for those with higher support needs. As we had onsite support workers available to support these clients we began to see how we could use our strengths to increase opportunities for homeless people in East London. Funnily enough, I knew nothing about cooking at all. What I do know is how to work with extremely vulnerable people. I relied on clients and volunteers to bring their knowledge about cookery and food.

For the first time we invited clients into the kitchen. Many had worked in the food industry in the past, or had good knowledge and cookery skills picked up from their family or community. In return I was able to help them access the help they needed to tackle the root causes of their homelessness. This led to an interesting dynamic – instead of clients simply receiving support there was an expectation that they also brought something to the table; skills, knowledge and a willingness to contribute.

It was a big change and certainly a challenge for us as an organisation. Whilst we knew the positive impact that this would have on people we were conscious about some of the risks involved.  We were placing people who have experienced trauma and/or substance abuse into a busy work environment. Would it be too much pressure on them? Would something happen which could damage them or the charity? We were the only charity working in this way so there were not many people to ask!

We now had a team of client volunteers in the kitchen and we needed to pave the way for their further development. Success to us meant a way for them to ‘move on’ from the scheme into other opportunities for work or training. Clients could gain a food hygiene certificates and we’ve introduced one-to-one employment support for the client volunteers with the aim of finding them work and other training opportunities.

During the pilot phase of the scheme we realised that training has had a huge part to play in people’s recovery. I’ve seen many clients reduce and even completely give up drink and drugs, once on the scheme; once their confidence is reawakened and they realise they can work again.

Today, the scheme is run by a trained chef. Clients wear professional chefs’ whites. Eighteen chefs from the five star Andaz Hotel Liverpool Street deliver a range of professional workshops for our trainees. The scheme is supported by an employability programme which assists clients with CVs, interview techniques and work-based skills. We, ensure those who can benefit from the scheme can access it. Those who, more often than not, are excluded from other opportunities. And we work with clients to ‘move on’ from the scheme to further opportunities such as the Pret Foundation’s apprenticeship scheme.

The launch of this trainee scheme marked the beginning of what we would call a ‘personalised approach’ at Providence Row and the start of our intention to show people what they can do, not why they can’t. Since the scheme started 121 trainees have completed the scheme. More than 50% of these have gone onto further education, training and employment. One of the best things about my job is seeing a former trainee confident and in a role they enjoy.

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