“It’s given me a purpose in life!”: Manchester café employs ex-prisoners

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THE Mess café in Wythenshawe, Manchester, which employs only former prisoners, is celebrating its fifth anniversary next week.

The cafe’s main goal is to help reoffending prisoners to get their lives back on track by offering them support, training, employment and help with housing.

The Message Trust charity does work in prisons helping young reoffenders. They launched the cafe 5 years ago in order to provide a place of work and sense of stability for those reoffenders leaving prison.

Only 3.7 per cent of the staff at the Mess Café end up reoffending, which is considerably less than any current government programmes.

The cafe is mainly driven by the success of cutting reoffending rates but it is not just about the statistics.

Business manager Sam Hawthorne said: “We want to see people who were once the problem now become the answer and the solution, and become positive role models to the next group of people we train up and bring through the programme.”

Christopher Rogers, who is now the cafe’s senior chef, was constantly reoffending and going back to prison. He now has a job and rents a room with the help from the Message Trust.

He said: “Jail was just a revolving door for me!

“I had a big family but we never sat together, we never did anything together… we’d take drugs together, we’d drink together, we’d party together but we’d never spend quality time together and that’s what I’m learning just now.

“Also, I was on methadone, I was on heroin, I was on crack, I was on Valium. I had to go to a Christian rehabilitation centre and after that I was at a loose end. Where was I going to get a job? Who would employ me?”

Mr Rogers was recommended for this programme and got a place to live with help from the Message Trust. He also got a job at the Mess café where he is now their senior chef.

“This place has believed in me, it’s given me responsibility, it’s given me something to do, it’s given me a purpose in life!”

Ruth Devent, who works front of house at the Mess café, shared her story and experience at the café:

The employees normally go through a two year programme with accredited apprenticeship schemes. During this they are trying to find work placements in other restaurants and hotels around Manchester.

The prisoners that the charity are already working with are recommended for the job positions when they are approaching their release date.
They also work with homeless charities and drug rehab centres.

With their five-year anniversary next week, the cafe manager, Sam Hawthorne, reflects on other businesses that have since been opened, running on the same sort of scheme.

He said: “We’ve added a beauty salon, a building team, a furniture and restoration business, a gardening business and an events business aswell. All of these business are up and running around Manchester and the North West.”

There are also plans to replicate the success of the café but on a smaller scale. There are plans of running a mobile barista bar or street food van over the next few years.

Click on the links for more information on the Message Trust and the Mess Café.

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