Brunch is not hard to come by in Norwich. A city known for its good food, there are eggs on toast, bacon sandwiches, green juices and Instagram filters a-plenty. Pancakes and waffles may be easy to find in this Fine City, but Britannia Cafe is one of the few places that really has something different to offer.
The menu is the usual breakfast fayre, the millennial appetite perfectly satisfied by smashed avocado and caramel lattes, alongside bulging plates of fry-ups, but the location inside four very high walls on top of a hill overlooking the city is the first sign of something more unusual. Opened on-site at HMP Norwich, Cafe Britannia is staffed by inmates at the male Category D prison on Britannia Road. Helping to run the kitchens, front of house, shop and maintain the gardens, this is rehabilitation that dispels the cliches of stuffy interviews and evaluations with prison officers. Cafe Britannia properly prepares prisoners for life on the outside and offers diners a “unique dining experience”.
I spoke to Gemma Johnson, the marketing and events manager about how it all works, and why the scheme has been successful.
The prison site initially opened in January 2014, the brainchild of Davina Tanner, but the scheme and business has grown exponentially in the last three years to include a smaller kitchen in the city centre Guildhall, and Molly and Claude, two food trucks who travel around Norwich parks and city centre, as well as offering wedding and event catering.
Around 30 – 40 prisoners are employed across all of the Cafe Britannia sites, many of whom have no catering experience, but have been approved for the rehab scheme by the prison officers and social workers of HMPS, and the roles the inmates are offered depend on their skillset and independent evaluations. For example, those who need to improve their social confidence are offered front of house service jobs, those who have practical skills can help maintain the gardens and build the furniture items for sale in the shop. The prisoners are accompanied by a number of civilian employees, including four fully trained chefs who have developed the three menus offered at the cafe.
Gemma explained that they “try to get as many people involved as possible, to help them learn new skills, rehabilitate and help prisoners become more comfortable in public working environments”, all whilst “trying to change the public perception of prisoners and rehabilitation”. These are bold objectives, but it seems to be working. Not only has there not been a single bad reaction in the time that Gemma has been working with the scheme (only compliments and requests for another slice of cake) but the rehabilitation element is one of the most successful schemes in the UK. The national reoffending rate is currently 45 percent. Amongst members of Britannia Cafe staff, it’s less than 4 percent.
The inmate staff are on full-time shift patterns, emulating the 9 – 5 working habits they’re likely to need after release and the regular working incentives are also in place. The staff are paid ‘prison wages’, but the cafe also financially contribute to a number of
charities working to support the victims of crime in the UK. Leeway, a domestic violence and abuse charity, and Victim Support who offer guidance to survivors of crime or other trauma both receive regular donations from the Britannia scheme.
Challenging the stereotypes surrounding prisoners and prison life, reducing crime through work rather than statistics and long sentences, the Britannia Cafe is an incredible scheme. Oh, and the breakfasts aren’t too bad either.