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Café 16

Sophie O'Sullivan, about 3 years ago

Based in the North East, The Oswin Project is dedicated to supporting prison leavers into training and employment opportunities.

One pathway to employment is through Café 16.

Last year Café 16 opened at HMP Northumberland. The name 'Café 16' acknowledges the great history of HMP Northumberland as an air force base in the early twentieth century.

The Oswin project raised funds to refurbish the café. This was with the view of providing Oswinners (trainees) with the opportunity to gain work experience and qualifications in catering and hospitality, in addition to creating a comfortable space where prison staff could relax and enjoy high quality food.

The opening of the cafe, keenly anticipated by staff and Oswinners alike, was delayed from March till May due to Covid restrictions. Showing innovation, manager Martin returned and opened up the café as a take away service within the prison, supporting 4 trainees at a time.

When the café can fully reopen, it will be able to employ 12 Oswinners.

The trainees, volunteers and Oswin staff have worked tirelessly to provide an increasingly important service for prison staff and visitors. The offering includes breakfasts, lunches, take out hampers and, by special request, birthday cakes.

Not only do you provide tremendous opportunities for the residents that work within the café but also the most amazing cakes and meals. Café 16 has become a sanctuary and afforded us the ability to escape the unit after having what is proving to be a particular challenging time due to COVID restraints and be met by friendly, happy, smiling faces really does help in more ways than lining our stomachs! Your support really is appreciated.

- Staff at HMP Northumberland on Café 16.

Café 16 plays a crucial role in looking after the mental health and wellbeing of residents and prison staff during this exceptionally challenging period.

Under the current prison regime, people are locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day as a result of tight Covid restrictions. In light of this, the trainees have stressed the importance of the structure that employment has given them in the café, providing a sense of normality under very tough circumstances. Café 16 remaining open shows high regard for The Oswin Project by senior members of prison staff.

You don't know what a difference you have made to me, once a week to come into the peace, not to be disturbed by anyone and just to enjoy my tea to be treated like a normal person.
  • - Resident on Café 16

Spotlight on Trainee Experiences at Café 16

Manager Martin was impressed by trainee Paul*, known as the breakfast bun supremo by his team at Café 16. During his time at the café, he demonstrated an outstanding regard for health and safety procedures and advance food preparation. Paul is recognised as a cheerful team player, who got stuck in from day one.

Paul has since progressed from the café and has joined The Oswin Project's flourishing gardening and maintenance arm. The team at Café 16 are sure that his work ethic coupled with his outgoing nature will stand him in good stead.

After being in HMP Northumberland for a few weeks I got a job as a red band in Café 16; it was a blessing. Within weeks my confidence was building back up and I got my self-esteem back. Everyone in Café 16 was really nice and helpful, even lads off other wings were a good influence on me. The full experience has had a positive effect on me. I would like to thank everyone from The Oswin Project team for giving me a new start at life. Thanks guys please keep this up as there's loads of lads like me who deserve a second chance.
  • - Oswinner on their time at Café 16

Another trainee enjoyed sending recipes they had learned at work in the café to their children so they could bake at home, maintaining vital family bonds. This shows the wider impact of employment in its ability to boost morale and foster connection and community.

Future Steps

The Oswin Project are looking forward to the development of another café in the community. This will create a clear pathway to achievement for Oswinners, continuing the rehabilitation process and bridging the gap between prison and release.

The team are planning to open a new Café 16 in a local Cathedral in June.

There was such a lovely atmosphere and everyone seemed happy in their work. You and your team should be very proud of your achievements.

-Visitor on Café 16

There is still exceptional talent leaving prison and they are eager to work.

The incredible work, training and service supplied by Café 16 highlights the importance of continuing to invest in their potential through employment and training.

Outside of hospitability, The Oswin Project supports Oswinners in construction, painting and decorating, gardening and maintenance and horticulture.

If you are an employer in the North East and have employment or apprenticeship opportunities, please do get in touch with The Oswin Project via our directory.

*Name changed to maintain confidentiality.