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Surprise award for manager of College’s prison coffee shop

The manager of a coffee shop and café run as a joint venture between  Weston College and Leyhill Prison has won a surprise award.

Leyhill Grounds Coffee Shop is based next to the Gloucestershire prison, and is open to the public.

It employs people who are in custody as part of a Weston College social enterprise which has been created to provide opportunities for those in custody.

Kaye Thomas received the special award in recognition of her work with the prison ‘residents’ and the quality service the shop provides.

It was presented by Charles Martell, the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, who visits the shop on his regular visits to Leyhill.

“It was a wonderful surprise,” said Kaye.

“Ray Johnson, the prison governor, called me into a room to, apparently, talk about buying some new blinds for the shop.

“I was then presented with the award by Charles Martell. The High Sheriff of Somerset and the future High Sheriff of Gloucestershire had come as well. There were a few tears in my eyes I don’t mind admitting.”

The award recognises Kaye’s efforts in developing the social, communication and employability skills of the employees, who are all residents of the prison.

“It’s a very rewarding job,” said Kaye.

“As well as barista and catering training, we provide work experience and help residents develop the broader skills they’ll need to secure jobs on release.

“Everyone who works in the shop has to hand in a CV and is interviewed – just like any job.

“It’s great when former employees get back in touch to say how well they’re doing and how we helped them.”

The shop is run in partnership with HMP Leyhill by Releasing New Potential – a Community Interest Company operated by Weston College – which helps people lead crime-free lives.

Gerry Shattock, Releasing New Potential’s Social Enterprise Manager, said: “Leyhill Grounds Coffee Shop is a commercial venture. That means everything has to be up to a very high standard –the quality of food, drink and service – or customers won’t come back.

“This not only provides residents with the practical knowledge they need in order to work in a hospitality environment, but also broader operational skills that can be applied in many other sectors.”

Leyhill Grounds Coffee Shop is clearly proving a big hit with customers. It’s currently the top-ranked coffee and tea shop in the Gloucester area on Trip Advisor, and second in the list of ‘places to eat’.

As well as running Releasing New Potential, Weston College provides education in prisons across the South West of England, including Leyhill. Curricula are designed to engage offenders in learning and help them find employment when they are released. The Weston College team delivers a wide range of courses in the prisons, including catering, English, maths, customer service, art, plastering, carpentry, and bricklaying.