The London Housing Foundation supports Margins, a project run at Union Chapel in Islington north London. They provide catering training for people who are or have been homeless. The project offers real world work with trainees working with a chef to provide the food for all concerts at the chapel.
Aristide Tankeu is 49 and was born in Cameroon. Fluent in French and Italian, with good English, he trained as an international lawyer in Cameroon and then moved to Italy undertaking further studies in economy and commerce. 12 years of work followed until he was made redundant. He then had three and a half years of unemployment and his marriage broke down. He travelled to France in search of work but could not find work and came on to London from Paris.
Things were no easier in London and Aristide ended up living in a cold weather shelter in Islington. Spells in other temporary accommodation followed but Aristide soon found that it is hard to maintain supported accommodation. He lost his room in a south London hostel because he returned to Italy to visit his children for two days. Another place insisted he leave at 9am and did not come back until the evening, making it impossible to build up any security; in another hostel he was treated badly and had to leave. At one point Aristide slept on the street as there was simply no other option.
Aristide was referred to the Margins Project by a worker at one of the hostels he stayed in. The staff spent time with him and then suggested the Catering Project. “This was a big opportunity for me”, said Aristide recently, “living without work is very difficult.”
What is the scheme like? “I have always wanted to learn how to cook. It was all very enjoyable and now I can cook interesting fish dishes and even a quiche! I have received my food safety certificate which makes it easier to find work. The other trainees were very positive and it was good to be part of a team. It can be very busy but everyone worked together”.
From Margins: “Our four month Café Training Programme sits at the centre of the supported employment strand of our work. Running twice a year, it provides paid work and professional training in a nurturing environment for people in stable enough accommodation with experience of homelessness, offending, or mental ill health. Trainees are employed in the Margins Café, which cooks for and serves the public coming to Union Chapel gigs and events.
The kitchen is a calm place where trainees develop skills from front to back of house. The chef works at the trainee’s pace, identifying and encouraging innate talents, allowing greater independence to prepare, cook and deliver the dishes as the course progresses. While cooking is the vehicle, we focus strongly on generic work skills and building confidence and self-esteem to develop overall employability. We work closely with each trainee from the moment they join us, establishing individual interests and ambitions working towards each trainee moving on to paid work or further training. While with us, all trainees have an opportunity to gain the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) Level 2 Award in Food Safety in Catering.
This year we’ve extended the number of trainees on the supported employment programme from 10 to 14 per year. Continuing with two cohorts of 5 kitchen trainees, we added two new roles: kitchen porter and office trainee. The office role has been highly successful and we are currently developing it to work cross-organisation. “
Aristide did so well on the course that he was taken on to the trainee scheme at Pret a Manger in Cannon Street. He now works there full time having graduated from their Rising Star Programme.
What does the future hold? “I see the future very positively. The Margins Project is very nice; the door is always open and they have helped me a lot. This is the beginning of a new life for me and I am determined to succeed.”
For more information about Margins go to https://www.unionchapel.org.uk/about-us/the-margins-project/