Paul Carberry: Big Yes for award-winning scheme turning young offenders into chefs

Yes Chef - Daniel, Jordan, Scott
Yes Chef - Daniel, Jordan, Scott
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Recently, one of our most popular fundraisers was recognised with two wins at the Scottish Events Awards. Yes Chef! sees young men we work with spend 12 weeks training in ­kitchens before being centre stage at a high-profile event and moving into careers in hospitality.

As well as winning Charity Event of the Year, it also took home the chairman’s award. Chair of the judging panel, Damian Clarke, said of the event: “A totally unique entry and one which deserves much recognition.

Paul Carberry is Action for Children's Director in Scotland.

Paul Carberry is Action for Children's Director in Scotland.

“Yes Chef! is a great example of a cause-related campaign which 
provides a genuine solution to a growing societal problem, helping young offenders change their lives forever and turning what was a 
negative time in their lives into a real positive.”

Yes Chef! is delivered by our Moving On project, which works with young people recently liberated from short-term prison sentences to help rehabilitate them back into their local communities.

Staff support the young men to find accommodation upon their release and access benefits as well as assisting with finding employment and ­training or to reengage with education. Working across four local authorities, Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, East Ayrshire and the Highlands, it has resulted in more than 80 per cent of the people ­supported not returning to prison.

The service’s programme of activities also includes a cooking course, which equips the young men with the skills to prepare affordable and healthy meals. Seeing the potential of the programme, in 2014 Yes Chef! became the newest addition to our fundraising calendar.

This year, more than 400 guests enjoyed a six-course tasting menu prepared by the up-and-coming chefs and witnessed first-hand the journey they are on, something that will play a big part in changing ­attitudes and perceptions about young people who have been in prison. But that is just part of the story.

During their three-month training, all the young men gain certifications and qualifications necessary to allow them to work in kitchens. Thanks to a range of restaurant owners and chefs who support our work, all the young men have been fortunate enough to secure work placements after Yes Chef! is finished, with a number then being offered full-time work. This year, we were very proud to announce that all of those taking place in Yes Chef!, thanks to the level of training they received, would, instead, start working full-time as chefs.

For most of the young men ­coming through the project, the stories are all too familiar: negotiating significant challenges in their early lives and, in their teenage years, ­getting into trouble with the law and finding themselves in jail. But our staff have been there for them and supported them to turn their lives around.

Yes Chef! allows a spotlight to be shone on the excellent work of Moving On staff and highlight the life-changing work they do. It is great to see this work being championed and celebrated at such a prestigious awards ceremony, it is richly deserved.

Paul Carberry is Action for Children’s director in Scotland.