Eat out, give back

Claudia Cahalane rounds up a tasty selection of socially-minded cafes and restaurants across the UK

A decade since Jamie Oliver launched his famous Fifteen restaurant in East London, to provide training and apprenticeships for disadvantaged young people, it has turned into a chain with restaurants in Cornwall and Australia. Twelve years prior, a London church called St Martin in the Fields and a handful of other charitable organisations were running cafes employing ex-homeless people, however, the spotlight on Fifteen got more people thinking about how the catering industry could become a force for good.

Around the UK we can now see a budding collection of places to eat and drink where profits benefit those most in need. From helping ex-addicts, prisoners, troubled young people, those with learning difficulties, or anyone who is struggling to find work, these places give you good food and put the money you pay to good use. Happy eating!

The Clink, Surrey

Food being served at the Clink
Food being served at the Clink
Photo: © The Clink

This gourmet, upmarket restaurant, is run by the Clink Charity which aims to reduce re-offending rates by training prisoners near to release. The charity operates the restaurant at HMP High Down in Sutton, Surrey and is looking to develop the concept in other UK prisons, as well as in public locations. The next one looks set to be in Cardiff later this year.

Almost half of UK prisoners re-offend within the first year of release, often because they have no direction. Once released, Clink graduates are placed into an ex-offender career mentoring scheme. So far 25 out of the 85 prisoners that have been through the programme have found jobs. The menu is upmarket and traditional.

Brigade, London

Set up in a large 19th century fire station in the London Bridge area, this rather fancy restaurant has been established to help people who have been homeless, are vulnerable or are disadvantaged, to develop skills and find work. A collaboration between a number of companies and organisations, the profits go towards support and training provided by Beyond Food Foundation’s Freshlife Training scheme.

Inside you’ll find a social enterprise bistro, wine bar, private dining and event business, as well as a training and demonstration kitchen. Food is modern British, with a heavy emphasis on meat dishes.

Create, North England

The Create Foundation
Create restaurant
Photo: © The Create Foundation

Create has recently opened its first restaurant in Leeds and a cafe in Manchester after running a successful catering business for several years. It offers employment and training to hundreds of people across Leeds, Sunderland, Manchester and Doncaster, and is now looking for investment to expand nationally.

Long term unemployed and disadvantaged people take 12-week training schemes, which equip them to work in the food industry and also provide them with general skills so they can become more employable.

Richard Walton-Allen, former head chef at Harvey Nichols in Leeds, acts as executive chef and his trusty assistants serve up modern British food at around £14 for a two course evening meal.

The Hive, near Lincon

The Hive is a modern cafe in a 34-acre woodland about 15 minutes drive from Lincoln town centre, run by Hillholt Wood, an award winning social enterprise that manages the wood as a conservation area and a place to offer education, employment and training. The cafe began when the CEO, Karen Lowthrop allowed a local A-Level Business Studies student to manage a pilot of the cafe on Sundays.

There are some delicious-sounding breakfast, snacks and brunches on offer. Try the Forester’s Stack for £3.75 – crispy bacon, sausage, egg and fried mushrooms packed into a giant roll – or treat yourself to The Famous Hive Honey Cake, made from honey produced by their own bees. All profits are reinvested back into training new staff, encouraging community involvement and bringing people to the woodland.

The Robin Hood, Brighton

The Robin Hood Street Party 2010
The Robin Hood Street Party 2010
Photo: © The Robin Hood

It was the first ever ‘people’s pub’ and eight years on, Brighton’s beautiful pink Robin Hood pub has given all of its profits – more than £90,000 – away to local charities.

The concept is simple: it’s a normal cosy pub, with very friendly, paid staff and happy drinkers. But instead of going to a big brewery, profits are distributed to groups like Fun in Action for Children and The Women’s Refuge Project. Check out a homemade pizza from the in-house pizza oven.

The Brink, Liverpool

It’s something of a new concept for a pub, but since it opened late last year, this new, slightly arty establishment has attracted attention for its non-alcoholic credentials. The idea is to provide a space for those recovering from addictions to socialise, enjoy live music, poetry nights and good food. There’s a diverse, contemporary menu with drinks such as ginger ales or lemon and lime bitters to accompany.

Some of the staff have battled with addiction and are getting back to work for the first time in several years. Profits go to rehabilitation programmes.

Strawberry Line Cafe, Bristol

Strawberry Line Cafe
Strawberry Line Cafe
Photo: © Strawberry Line Cafe

The Strawberry Line Cafe operates as a ‘social firm’ with all profits used to provide training, employment and work experience for young adults with learning disabilities.

There’s homemade granola and porridge for breakfast and hot baps, soups and paninis for lunch, along with Fairtrade teas and coffees.

This lovely little cafe employs three people with learning disabilities, two of them as NVQ apprentices, and a further nine are involved as regular volunteers. They also run work preparation programmes for local schools. Various community events are held at the cafe in the daytime and evenings, including a cycling group and a job club.

Taste Academy, Rhyl

The Taste Academy team
The Taste Academy team
Photo: © Taste Academy

Opening last April in a sunny spot on Rhyl’s promenade in North Wales, this venue, split into a funky cafe and more formal restaurant, has taken on dozens of apprentices, many of whom have gone into further training or employment.

So far, more than 20,000 visitors have been through the doors to enjoy local treats and international dishes at the academy, which works closely with Community Interventions Justice Wales’ (CIJW) farmland project to source local food.

Youth organisation Rathbone Cymru is responsible for bringing in apprentices of a variety of ages to the academy – from CIJW, North Wales Women’s Centre and Llandrillo College.

Foyer Restaurant, Aberdeen

The Foyer Restaurant is a well-respected place serving seasonal menus with variations on classic dishes using fresh Scottish produce (largely meat and fish based). The contemporary interior features an art gallery and profits are used to support Aberdeen Foyer, a local charity providing supportive accommodation to former homeless and at risk young people, alongside a range of education, training, employment support and health promotion services.

The restaurant is housed in a former church, which has been carefully renovated to create an uncluttered, modern space and a relaxed, informal atmosphere.

FoodCycle, UK wide

A cooking session at the Imperial Hub, London
Photo: © FoodCycle

FoodCycle is an impressive venture that has branched out with a network of cafes all around the UK. Each is run by a team of local volunteers – often students – in an unused professional kitchen or community space, using leftover and waste food to create quality meals. All food is veggie and cheap, often served on a ‘pay what you want’ principle and any profits go back into supporting the business and training.

There are hubs in Bath, Bristol, Birmingham, Cambridge, Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Norwich, and four in London. The company is always looking for volunteers to start new FoodCycle hubs, so if you don’t have one in your area, get in touch.