Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Hosts Fundraiser for the Future of Prison-Leavers

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Switchback Fundraiser in London
River Cottage founder Hugh with Switchback Trainees (L-R) Ken, Abubakr, Mohamed and Brian at the Old Bailey steps in London where the event was held. (Photo credit: Samuel Hennessy).

Yesterday River Cottage founder Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall hosted a unique fine dining experience for 150 guests at the world-famous court the Old Bailey in London.

Over £150,000 was raised in aid of London-charity Switchback, which changes the lives of 18 to 30-year-old male prison leavers through intensive one-to-one support and real work training. The reoffending rate for Switchback Trainees is astonishingly low at just 9% – compared to around 50% nationally.

The Wren Kitchens sponsored event saw guests tasting the delights of a three-course organic meal with produce sourced from within 100 miles of London. It celebrated the seasons showcasing the finest sustainable foods, including pollack landed at Hastings and organic Suffolk mutton.

Former prisoners welcomed guests into the fitting venue as they dined under the decorative dome of the Grand Hall.

Alice Dawnay, Founder & CEO at Switchback, said: “Switchback has never been able to host an event like this before. It’s thanks to Wren Kitchens that every penny raised will go straight towards Switchback’s work with our Trainees. This means even more young men can get the help they need to find a way out of the justice system and build a stable life they can be proud of.”

A live and silent auction boosted funds for the rehabilitation charity. This included original artwork from urban contemporary artist D*Face aka Dean Stockton which sold for £4,500 and a 24-hour experience at River Cottage including tea with Hugh making £9,600.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Switchback Patron and event host said: “It means a lot to us at River Cottage to be supporters of Switchback. We love it when the Switchback Trainees visit us at River Cottage HQ. Getting them involved in gathering and preparing ingredients from the garden and the farm is as special for us as we hope it is for them.

“It was a great pleasure to put together the menu for last night’s fundraising dinner at the Old Bailey, and we are delighted that over £140,000 was raised for Switchback. It was a fantastic event, and I am very proud to have been a part of it.”

Hugh has been welcoming Switchback Trainees to River Cottage HQ and his restaurants for some time now, with one graduate of the scheme being employed at the Axminster Kitchen for two years.

Switchback works with 40 new Trainees a year who are supported on both sides of the prison gates with the same mentor throughout as they help to navigate the turbulent transition from prison to community.

Some 84% of programme finishers go on to get a job. Around half end up working in catering – others go on to jobs in retail, construction, administration or into training or university.

Michael, a former Switchback Trainee, now working as a Chef, said: “I don’t know where I’d be without Switchback. They restored a lot of things: my faith, my trust, my mentality. There’s so much to look forward to now. I used to see the world in a totally different light. I used to see it in black and grey, now I see it in colours.”

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