Focus: Frontline - The Hoxton Apprentice

Anita Pati,

WHAT IT IS: A social enterprise restaurant run by the charity Training for Life. Hoxton Apprentice is one of a growing number of TfL Prospect Centres that involve community learning and development

WHAT IT DOES: Runs apprenticeships in catering and hospitality for homeless people or those at risk of homelessness and people who have been unemployed for more than six months

HOW IT'S FUNDED: Local government employment initiatives, Corporation of London, corporate funding, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

The ox-blood drapes and dark wood at the Hoxton Apprentice could belong to any upmarket restaurant in London's trendy Hoxton Square.

But behind the posh facade of the Grade 2-listed Victorian primary school is a thriving community enterprise aimed at regenerating deprived neighbourhoods.

The restaurant is staffed both by professionals and by long-term unemployed or homeless people who are training to become chefs. Apprentices are referred from nearby Hackney job centres.

Dawit, a young Italian man, tends the bar. He had been unemployed for 14 months when his job centre adviser suggested he apply because of his previous bar work experience.

He had been having "complex family issues" when he got accepted. He hopes the training will lead to a job in a West End nightclub.

"Everyone here is looking for a profession," he says. "In my case, it's more of a way out. I needed this to get away from what was around me at the time. I can sleep at night now."

Dawit is one of 11 apprentices in this term's intake - the fourth since the Hoxton Apprentice was launched last year. The restaurant has made an £80,000 profit since its inception, which has been ploughed back into the enterprise.

Personal development

The course begins with a six-week personal development period during which recruits learn communication and IT skills and relax in the community kitchen upstairs.

The induction is followed by a four-and-a-half month stint doing either bar, kitchen or waitering work, for which apprentices are paid proper wages. After six months, they receive an NVQ level 2 qualification, an employer's reference and support to get a job. Some 85 per cent are in full employment six months after leaving the scheme.

Training for Life was established in 1995 and helps disadvantaged people back into education or employment. Its chief executive, Gordon d'Silva, is passionate about the social enterprise business model for turning around the lives of those who are hardest to reach. "People freak when you just throw training at them," he says. "The idea is to create a learning journey before you return people to further education or employment."

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