Peterborough restaurant partners with local prison rehabilitation scheme to provide training and opportunities
Nick Ruttta, who owns Afro-Caribbean restaurant Embe Soul Food and Drink on Cowgate has teamed up with businessman man Gez Chatal, who owns the Thomas Paine Hotel in Thetford, on his Prismstart scheme.
Gez and his wife Rosy began the scheme in 2018 to give ex-offenders a fighting chance to get into the job market when they left prison, rather than leaving them trapped in a cycle that could lead them to reoffend.
He was inspired to do so after working closely with the Department of Work and Pensions during his time as a hotelier. After a few visits to prisons, including Peterborough, the city where Gez once lived for 18 years, he was impressed by the skills of a number of the inmates.
Ever since then, Gez and Rosy have dedicated their own time and money to Prismstart; going into prisons offering workshops and interviewing those set for release to ascertain their skills, their willingness to get involved in the program, the area of work that would best suit the and what would be needed to get them there.
Once in the program, they are offered training as well as the chance to earn foundation level qualifications, which could lead them to getting jobs either within Gez’s own business or elsewhere with a company they are matched up with. Gez has numerous success stories, including a number of employees in his own businesses that have come through the Prismstart scheme.
The project was self-funded for two years but is now backed by the National Lottery Community Fund and Gez has even received celebrity endorsement from former Spandau Ballet Lead Singer Tony Hadley, as well as a letter of support from Dominic Raab MP, who at the time led the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (now Foreign Secretary).
Gez and Rosy now work with five prisons around Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, including HMP Peterborough.
Gez said: “I got involved with the Department for Work and Pensions within the prisons as a hotelier, as I always found it difficult to find skilled staff.
“I also used to run a recruitment agency in Bucharest. After a few visits to prisons, I couldn’t believe some of the talent that was in there, so many people had valuable skills or were studying foundation courses.
“We are passionate about working with people, supporting them and then matching them up with businesses, it doesn’t cost them anything. They can always return to us for advice as well.
“Providing work for these people can really turn their lives around, especially in hotels as it gives them a vital place to stay.
“We have matched some people up with big employers such as Jardine Motors and BMW. It doesn’t matter about their past, we are often talking about some really qualified people.”
Nick has now pledged to support Gez in his venture and will be on hand to provide training and work experience to members of the scheme, and perhaps even jobs if the opportunities arise.
Nick said: “If you were to ask me what my first reaction to this was, I would have to say I was scared. I didn’t think it was something I wanted to be involved with.
“Gez was persistent though but what he did do was show me examples of people he has worked with before and how they had turned their lives around.
“I soon realised that these people need to be given opportunities. When they come out, they are already being judged by everyone and if they don’t get the right support they will end up right back at square one.
“Everyone deserves a second chance, we will be happy to provide them with training and work experience and if they have a good aptitude and a willingness, maybe even a job.
“I’m looking forward to working with Gez and I am glad to see somebody doing positive work for people in our community.”