Wagamama Launch First Ever Cooking Classes at UK Female Prison to Teach Future Chefs 


A TEAM of top wagamama chefs visited HMP Downview to serve up cooking classes and inspire female inmates to become chefs of tomorrow.

In partnership with the Ministry of Justice, it was the first time ever a major UK restaurant group worked within a female prison and fed the entire population.

The chefs from wagamama trained 18 prisoners some of the restaurant’s classic dishes to bring to life the experience of working in one of their busy kitchens, by bringing the wagamama experience to the prison kitchen

The wagamama team, headed by Lauren Robbin, wagamama Early Careers Partner and supported by senior wagamama chefs, fed hundreds of inmates and staff food prepared by the women inmates.

The wagamama chefs were joined by the women who are interested in a job in hospitality upon release and together they created over 400 portions of mouth-watering wagamama dishes including Chicken katsu curry, yasai katsu curry and bang bang cauliflower. All of these dishes were made completely from scratch with fresh produce enabling the women to learn new skills and experience the wagamama working ways, getting a true flavour for what working in a wagamama kitchen is like. 

On the day the chefs were joined by Sarah McKnight, Head of Director General’s office to witness the highly successful wagamama project with HMP Downview Deputy Governor, Esther Dainton.

Over the last year the Ministry of Justice and wagamama restaurants have formed a special partnership to take chefs into prisons and teach inmates cooking skills and ultimately offer them work so they have a job when they are released, helping to minimise the risk of re-offending. 

The project has been extremely successful in the five male prisons they have visited so far, including a number of hires and in one case an apprentice has been promoted to managerial level.

Yesterday’s visit (Nov 15) which is part of the Unlocking Hospitality campaign 2023 was at women’s prison HMP Downview near Sutton, Surrey. Currently about 4 per cent of the UK prison population (circa 3200 woman) are serving time. 300 of these women are at HMP Downview where wagamama taught the female inmates the art of cooking in the hope they take up the opportunity of work on the outside. 

A wagamama spokesperson said: “Supporting prison leavers into meaningful work has seen us visit a number of prisons across the uk where we have talked to men and women, close to release about wagamama, who we are, what we stand for and the job opportunities we have to offer alongside the apprenticeship opportunities to build on any kitchen-based education they have received from the prison.

“wagamama believes that people deserve a second chance and we commit, through our people promise, ‘all on one bench’ that our teams will always feel part of our no judgement community.

“We were proud to work with HMP Downview’skitchen and turn it into a wagamama kitchen for the day, enabling the women to see first-hand what it is like to work back of house in one of our restaurants.

“We’re committed to making sure these women see the opportunities available to them, especially having seen the impact first hand from our previous sessions and hope to help more people transition into meaningful work at wagamama, whilst supporting in the wider goal of reducing reoffending.”

New Futures Network Chief Executive Duncan O Leary said:“Getting prisoners into work is the best way to cut reoffending and keep the public safe.

“That’s why some of the nation’s best-loved restaurant and pub chains are teaming up with prisons to give inmates the skills they need to secure a job on release – all while helping hospitality firms train the workforce they need to grow and thrive.”

Over 70,000 people are released from prison each year and it is well evidenced that jobs cut reoffending and steer individuals away from a life of crime.

The visit forms part of a wider initiative by the Ministry of Justice and New Futures Network called ‘Unlocking Hospitality’ an event to drive up the numbers of inmates joining hospitality schemes – an industry which is struggling to recruit the people it needs.

As part of the visit, wagamama will formally team up with the Ministry of Justice and Prison Service to offer roles to prisoners out on licence, giving them the chance to gain key skills in the hospitality industry before leaving prison. The scheme was piloted at HMP Hatfield and rolled out across other men’s prisons.  

The visit forms part of the Ministry of Justice’s wider commitment to boost the number of prison leavers gaining jobs once out of the prison gates. A recent survey by the Ministry of Justice, showed that nine out of ten businesses that hire ex-offenders agree that they are motivated, good attenders and trustworthy.

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