Food for thought

Last week was the final round for applicants hoping to secure a place on this year’s Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen apprenticeship scheme. This innovative and hugely successful scheme attracts around 200 applications each year all wanting a place on the year-long apprenticeship, which offers college and kitchen training alongside personal development opportunities to young people in London. 18 apprentices are eventually chosen, and if you want you can read more about the scheme and what the year holds for the successful applicants on their website. We’ve put forward a number of young people since the scheme started, one of whom has now successfully graduated from the programme, and are always looking out for potential new apprentices with a passion for cooking.

We love apprenticeships. When they work well, they offer so much more than just a salary. We also know how popular apprenticeships are at the moment with the young people we work with, as they regularly tell us. Not becoming burdened with the huge debts that are the reality of going to university today, or perhaps not having gained enough qualifications, make becoming an apprentice seem an attractive option. Worryingly, the rate of apprenticeships – after an apparent boom in popularity – has been falling again in recent years. Moreover, many apprenticeships offer little more than low quality training or work experience, and a very low wage. Our eyes are always peeled to spot genuine, life-changing apprenticeships for our young people. We know through our experience that employers who recognise talent, and then nurture their staff and apprentices, not only turn lives round but they can also increase their company’s productivity.

Fifteen is a particularly great opportunity, as their wraparound service is so comprehensive. More often than not, the young people we meet – whether out of work in the community, or in custody – have complex needs in regard to family, housing, managing finances (and a whole host more), and as a result they may not have achieved highly in education, or managed to overcome barriers preventing them finding, and then holding down, a job or apprenticeship. Fifteen offer their “Open Door Programme” to address and overcome a range of issues (which you can also read about on their website).

This year, we’ve helped a young woman called Sarah apply, and we’re so pleased and proud of her for reaching the final stage, which means working a shift in the Fifteen kitchen this week. Back in May, our National Account Manager Rozie met Sarah in custody in HMP Holloway, and helped her apply, overcoming the challenges of applying from inside a prison without access to the online application processes. Sarah has passed a challenging three further stages to get to where she is today – two days of cooking activities in the training kitchens, a day of group activities in Borough Market, and a one-to-one interview.

Rozie recently caught up with her, and asked her a few questions about her experience so far:

Rozie: “How did you hear about Jamie’s fifteen apprenticeship programme?”

Sarah: “A few months ago I got the chance to attend a job fair at HMP Holloway prison, where I met some really nice people with some really good jobs, but the one that stuck out for me were the ladies from Fifteen. I went and spoke to them because I love cooking and out of everyone there I thought they would be able to offer me the best advice. While talking to them I realised that I ticked all the boxes for the apprenticeship and this could really be something I could go for. They said I would have to apply and write about why I like to cook and what my favourite things to cook are. That night I went back to my cell and started to write it all up. I got to think about this opportunity for a few weeks before Rozie from A Fairer Chance came in with the application and I still really wanted to go for it.”

Rozie: “How did you feel when you were told you’ve reached the final stage (we’re very proud of you!)?”

Sarah: “Ecstatic! I was really happy. I thought I had messed up on one of my days in the training kitchens and was really worried but when I was told I had made it through to the next stage I was over the moon. It feels really good to be doing something for myself.”

Rozie: “Tell me about your experience with the recruitment process so far? How have you found it?

Sarah: “I didn’t realise how many stages there would be! I spent a long time on the application and then assumed I would do some practical stuff and know if I was through or not but there has been a lot more to it. I have spent time in the training kitchens, done cooking tasks, one to one interviews, group tasks and I still have 1 more round to go! But I am really enjoying it.”

Rozie: “What’s been your favourite part about applying so far?”

Sarah: “I really enjoyed going to Borough market. I had never been before and there were so many stalls! We got to meet suppliers who have worked with Jamie’s and it was great trying some of the products. I had never seen so many different products in one place and it was great finding out about them all. We met people selling fruit and veg, meat, cheese, fish and I even went to a game butchers and bought a pigeon!”

Rozie: “What’s been the most challenging thing for you about applying so far?”

Sarah: “The first round was the hardest for me. I had only been out of prison for two days when I went and spent a day in the training kitchens. I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought I would just be asked to do some basic cooking tasks but we did some fishmongery and butchery and it was a lot harder than I expected! But I threw myself in and was surprise how much I enjoyed it.”

Rozie: “What experience cooking have you had in the past?”

Sarah: “Apart from home cooking which I have always enjoyed, I have also worked in prison kitchens. I am really good at following recipes and working with very basic ingredients.  In the prison kitchens, I was responsible for preparing and cooking a range of meals using a variety of cooking methods and ingredients.”

Rozie: “Why would you like to train in Jamie’s kitchen?”

Sarah: “I feel because of the name attached to this apprenticeship it is of a much higher quality than other apprenticeship programmes. I have read through some of the year books and I know a lot of the successful apprentices have had previous personal issues like myself but there seems to be a full wrap around service offered and real support. Also the training offered isn’t just the basics but real training, like I could do this and really be a chef!”

Rozie: “Where would you like to be in 5 years?”

Sarah: “Obviously, one day I would like my own restaurant or catering company but I would like to spend a few years working under people and learning as much as possible. Different cuisines, different styles, and find out what I enjoy and work as a head chef somewhere. I want to learn as much as I can!”

Rozie: “How have you found working with A Fairer Chance?”

Sarah: “Really helpful. They have been so supportive. Rozie was coming into HMP Holloway to see me and help me with my application form on a weekly basis. Since release I haven’t had to chase them, they have stayed in touch with me and always contact me to see how I am doing. I don’t feel shy to ask for help as I know they genuinely want to help me.”

Rozie: “Firstly, what’s your favourite dish to cook, and secondly, to eat?”

Sarah: “My favourite dish to cook is rice and peas with fried chicken thighs and sticky citrus chicken wings and my favourite meal to eat is my mum’s leg of lamb. After she has cooked it she strips all the meat and then soaks it in the gravy. It is amazing!”

This is the reason we love our work. Sarah has proved to be a strong contender for the apprenticeship by getting this far, overcoming difficult circumstances. Whatever the outcome from last week, we’re confident she will be going places and putting her talent in the kitchen to good use.

We’ll write again next week to let you know how Sarah got on during her final day in the kitchen. Watch this space.