Fifteen shows capitalism can work with compassion

What better measurement of effectiveness than great taste?

My pan-roasted sea trout was superb, the tender pink fish contrasting with slices of crunchy scarlet beetroot, a sauce studded with burstingly fresh capers and a sprig of watercress. The pudding, an indulgent slab of cheesecake pockmarked with blackberries and covered in white chocolate, was spot on and decent value for money.

Mrs Seddon and I were having lunch in the trattoria section of Jamie Oliver's restaurant, Fifteen. We were impressed by the food, the friendly and solicitous service, and the social mission. Fifteen operates on an apprenticeship basis, and each year new groups of disadvantaged young people - homeless, unemployed, overcoming drug or alcohol problems - are given the chance to gain professional training as chefs to set themselves up in independent careers.

All profits go to the Fifteen Foundation, a registered charity that runs itself as a chef school, using employment as an engine of social mobility, equipping people with skills to get on in life, offering them a trade, a sense of purpose and confidence, and renewed social networks. Since this isn't about giving handouts, but requiring the people it is trying to help to hold their heads high in a busy and stressful environment, it's a concept more than a little coloured by the ideals of the enlightened industrialists of the Victorian era.

Far from being complacent about its effectiveness, Fifteen has also sought to demonstrate how it adds value by publishing a social report. Set up by Oliver five years ago, Fifteen now welcomes almost 100,000 guests a year. Its turnover in 2007 was about £4m, and it contributed £250,000 to the foundation. It costs £20,000 to train, support and graduate one apprentice, but an amazing three-quarters are still working as chefs. Nine out of 10 regard their experience as positive. The model is being replicated in Amsterdam, Cornwall and Melbourne.

Not bad. Fifteen has been much touted as a social enterprise, but in a broader sense, in what Mr Casaubon in George Eliot's Middlemarch called the "wide field" of philanthropy and charity, it reminds us that capitalism and compassion are far from incompatible. By embedding values, by making them a selling point, Fifteen has shown how values can contribute to the sustainability of an organisation. - Nick Seddon is an author and journalist:

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