The FuseBox: Clink Events, Jonny Whitfield
28th February 2020
Welcome one and all to a new series of blogs with great people from the social enterprise sector.
Here at Fuse Events we're passionate about promoting the great work that Social Enterprise's (SocEnt) do across the UK, and if we offer some insight or inspiration about the way corporate event organisers (or any business!) can benefit from including social enterprises in their supply chains then we'll be a happy bunch.
Throughout 2020 we will be asking good people we know who work for Social Enterprises we love to answer a few questions…..
To kick things off we spoke to the Director of Clink Events, Jonny Whitfield, and asked him to share his wisdom / tolerate our slightly annoying questions. You can find out more about the Clink Events here, also check them out on Twitter and Instagram.
Who are you and why are you here?
Hi, I’m Jonny, director of Clink Events. I’m here to help reduce reoffending and make a change in the amazing events industry London has by trying to challenge the mind-set of who can work in the hospitality industry and by employing people who really need and want the opportunity rather than those who fit the traditional image of how a corporate brand might see themselves. We work with and train women in HMP Downview a closed category prison to produce amazing food for all our events. We train our learners (as we call them) to a City & Guilds NVQ L2 award in professional cookery and support them into employment opportunities upon release. We also work closely with young clients from Centrepoint who gain experience as front of house staff and get a City & Guilds experience in hospitality certificate for the work they do.
Tell us something most people don't know about your social enterprise.
I don’t think any of our clients would know the feeling our learners get when they are working on some of our amazing events, the places we’ve taken them to see and the people they’ve met. From working in some of London’s most prestigious and exclusive venues catering for events with Royalty and celebrities in attendance it’s amazing to think of the journey our learners have been on to where they are today. Especially seeing the transition for our learners inside HMP Downview to when they work with us on events post release. Nearly all would never have thought they’d get where they are now when they were first sentenced. I remember one of our graduates who worked on a dinner with us that we catered at the Old Bailey in the High Judge’s private dining room for the Lord Mayor of London. After the dinner the Lord Mayor came in to the kitchen to congratulate everyone and shake their hands. One of our graduates was blown away by the experience especially as he told us that the last time he was at the Old Bailey he was in court No.1 and was sentenced for 10 years.
They are some of the best staff to work for and the commitment and enthusiasm they bring to the event is far beyond that of the average agency staff who are working part time whilst studying to be a doctor or lawyer.
What does working for a Social Enterprise mean to you?
It might sound cliché but I’ve always loved working in hospitality and pushing myself to work at the very top end of the industry, for most of the time putting the perfection of your craft and profit ahead of more important matters. Working for a caterer that is a social enterprise is amazing because I still get to do what I love but I now have to push myself further to make sure we can work to the same level whilst having a positive impact on society and helping those who need help the most rather than only for profit or perfection. We still have to have a strong business ethos and ensure that we are a profitable business but it’s what we do with that profit at the end of the year that counts.
If you had to sell your social mission in five words what would they be?
Changing attitudes, transforming lives, making-second-chances (that’s five right??)
What's the biggest challenge you face day to day?
Running a premium event catering company from inside a prison is about as challenging as it sounds. There are always little (sometimes big) curve balls that are thrown our way every day. Blending our small operation which by its very nature has to be extremely flexible, often with last minute events and an every changing volume of business with a very large prison regime that is incredible ridged and strict (as it very well should be) doesn’t come easy. If everything goes to plan we’re fine but we always need to be planning very far in advance to ensure we’re not caught out. The learners (prisoners) that work with us have huge challenges to face every day so our team of chefs have to take this all into consideration and quite often need to metaphorically speaking swap their chef’s hat for a support workers hat or a prison officer’s when things get tough or emotional as they often do.
What are you and your team most proud of?
I think it would be the reputation we have gained over the past couple of years. We’ve gone from being a newly created events company to one that is competing and winning business off some of the big boys who have been doing this for the past 30+ years. But more importantly than the above it’s when we meet up with some of our graduates at our yearly reunion and hear the stories they have from their new lives working in some of London’s best restaurants and the positive vibes they’re giving off. This is the real reason why we do what we do; it’s no longer about producing amazing events but about changing people’s lives for the better, which should be exactly what hospitality is all about!
Who was your childhood hero?
This is a hard one, I don’t think I really had one childhood hero but rather looked up to a lot of people. I’d say those I looked up to most would be my parents when I was young. When I first started to work it would probably be my first employers Chris Corbin and Jeremy King from The Wolseley. One thing that really struck me was not just the successful business and reputation the restaurant had gained but that they would walk through the restaurant and kitchen nearly every day and greet every staff member by name and sincerely ask them how they or their families were. I always thought this was amazing given that that restaurant must have had close to 200 staff working in it. It seemed that they really cared and knew the people who worked for them.
Do you think they would be proud of the work you do?
I certainly hope so!
What are the biggest challenges you think Social Enterprises face in 2020?
I think being ethically, environmentally and socially minded is now such a hot topic that is widely spoken the challenge is to make business and the public see that this is here to stay. It’s not about just using a social enterprise once to coincide with a press release or a launch event where you want your clients to think you really care about helping society but using us regularly as your go to supplier. We may be small but we’re just as good, creative and professional (if not more so as we’ve got a point to prove) than anyone else. This is the only way social enterprises can grow as an industry as there is no real reason why any company should not have a social supplier chain or be a social enterprise themselves. We all need to work together to help bring a positive change, whether that change is focused on the environment , society or welfare, it’s for us all to make sure a change happens.
The best piece of work or life advice you ever received is....
My old pastry chef once told me “God gave you two hands, use them both!” it may not have been intended to be serious advice when said in a joking way but I always take this as a meaning you need to push yourself to your full potential and not to stop short just because it’s easier.
We'd like to thank Jonny and the team at The Clink for taking the time to contribute to our blog, if you'd like to take part in the FuseBox blog then please follow us on Twitter @FuseEvents_UK and drop us a message, or alternatively please drop the team a line at email@example.com
We're passionate about supporting and promoting the Social Enterprise sector, so if you have a story to tell or something inspiring to share then please get in touch.