Experts fear collapse of Training for Life charity that ran restaurant reflects vulnerability of social enterprises amid cuts
It is a flagship training restaurant that shared the vision of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and won plaudits for its work in helping long-term unemployed youngsters to become chefs, waiters and bar staff – some of whom went on to work in the kitchens of Buckingham Palace and Downing Street.
But after nearly nine years the renowned Hoxton Apprentice has closed its doors and is up for sale after Training For Life, the work charity that ran it, fell into administration. The closure reflects the vulnerability of social enterprises, which rely on fundraising as well as selling products and services.
Val Corbett, Hoxton Apprentice director, who hosted regular women’s networking lunches and dinners there through her Professional Women’s Network, said: “This is devastating for the long-term unemployed – yet another avenue is closed. No wonder youth unemployment stands at two million.
More than 6,000 charities have gone into administration since the general election and it is tragic that Training For Life has joined this sad band.”
Hoxton Apprentice was co-founded in 2004 by the chef and restaurateur Prue Leith and the social entrepreneur Gordon D’Silva, as a separate company linked to the charity. The pair are said to have approached Jamie Oliver with the idea of a training restaurant in 2001 but he ultimately decided to strike out on his own and opened Fifteen a year later. Neither Leith nor D’Silva are involved with the project now.
Set up as a social enterprise to train people in real jobs, providing them with a wage, reference and a recognised industry qualification, Hoxton Apprentice offered six months of on-the-job training – front and back of house – to apprentices chosen from the long-term unemployed. After being officially opened by the then deputy prime minister, John Prescott, it was dubbed “Prescott’s Pantry” after receiving part-financing from his department.
The restaurant aimed to provide affordable but high-quality dining to customers in a training and support environment. All profits were reinvested in training, and it claimed to have trained 650 people, of whom 70% have found permanent jobs in hospitality and catering.
Its apprentices found jobs with prestigious restaurants and employers such as Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Gordon Ramsay, Buckingham Palace and Downing Street, as well as with international hospitality groups such as Nobu, the Hilton, Compass, Whitbread and Sodexo.
Set up in 1995, the London-based Training For Life aimed to help long-term jobless through training and apprenticeships. It claimed to have helped more than 13,000 people into full-time education or employment, and created more than 150 new jobs in its own right.
But the future of the charity and its restaurants became increasingly precarious as it fell victim to coalition funding cuts. It was then unable to sell its valuable building and plunged into administration.
The insolvency experts Mazars were appointed as administrators of Training For Life in November, and Marriotts are handling the sale of Hoxton Apprentice. The original restaurant in Hoxton Square and its sister restaurant, the Dartmouth Apprentice in Devon, continued to honour bookings, but the Barking Apprentice in east London has closed.
The setback highlights the difficulties faced by social enterprises dependent on fundraising, grants and sponsorship, as cuts continue to bite.
A source said: “The funding situation became unsustainable.”
The training involved in this kind of venture does not come cheap. The Jamie Oliver Foundation, which works alongside the commercial Fifteen restaurant to fund apprenticeships for unemployed and untrained young people aged 18-24, has revealed that it costs £30,000 to recruit, support and train a Fifteen apprentice.
The Guardian understands that several former Training For Life executives hope to form a new charity to try to address the problem of long-term unemployment.
Approached by the Guardian, Prue Leith declined to comment. D’Silva said: “I was deeply upset to hear that Training For Life has gone into administration. In their day, they managed to transform the lives of thousands of disadvantaged people. They pioneered new business models that combined social purpose with profitability and they created a blueprint that many other organisations followed. Its intangible assets and real impact are therefore immeasurable.”
He said the changing funding climate had played a part in its demise. “In four short years the world has changed irrevocably. People want more for less on all levels … and social enterprises are no different. They are exposed to the same market forces as everyone else.”
The joint administrator of Hoxton Apprentice, Lloyd Hinton of Marriotts, said: “There is very little I can say at this time other than we hope to complete a sale of the business shortly.”