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Lee's Story HMPasties

HMPasties is a social enterprise managed by Groundwork. It was set up to 'bring out the good inside' by employing ex-offenders to make and sell delicious handmade Cornish-style pasties.

It is focused on providing educational and training facilities to people with convictions and aims to ultimately be self-funding. Being in employment is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of re-offending with similar projects cutting the re-offending rate by around 40%.

In this film, Lee explains how HMPasties works, why it is important and how his own experiences led him to create it.

Find out more on the HMPasties website: 

Interview with Lee Wakeham, Business Manager of HMPasties

We loved talking to Lee and there was a lot of interesting information we couldn't fit in the film. We recommend reading this full version of our interview with Lee if you would like more background.

Ben (BL): Hi Lee, can you tell us about what you do here?

Lee (LW): I’m Lee Wakeham. I work for Groundwork MSSTT and I run HMPasties.


BL: What is it that you do here?

LW: We make handmade Cornish-style pasties. Wherever possible we source ingredients from prison farms and gardens. We employ people on release from custody. Men, women and young people at risk of getting involved in crime.


BL: Why pasties?

LW: I might not sound it but I’m from the West Country originally. Could not find a good pasty for love nor money, anywhere in Manchester. So I started making my own. Over the years friends and family have told me: ‘you really need to do something, these pasties are great’. Just doing it for me wasn’t enough but the social impact side of it is why I do it.

This recipe is mine, I’ve been working on it for years. Getting the instant feedback from the customers. Watching them take a bite and their face lighting up. That’s incredibly rewarding as well as seeing the lads reaction when they see that. Yes, it’s my idea and product, but they are helping to make it and the feedback means a lot to them too.

I might be biased but they are amazing! You’re not going to get a pasty like this outside of Cornwall!


Lee and employees in kitchen with pasties at HM PastiesBL: What is life like for the people you work with?

LW: Usually, pretty chaotic. Many have never worked before. Often just released from custody. What we’re trying to do is steer them away from their usual habits. So whilst we are making pasties, we’re also working as peer mentors too.

Typically the guys that we work with are fairly anti-social. I’ve worked with guys who before working with me had barely left their bedroom. Spend most of their time on the computer, high levels of cannabis abuse, no thought at all to going to work, let alone going out to find a job and all the effort it takes.

We had one lad in particular, 18 years old, lived with his mum. Mum struggling, really struggling to manage him. He got convicted of domestic violence. Smashed his mum’s home up and that’s how he got introduced to us. Over six months of working with him we managed to get him out of his room and out volunteering. He really enjoyed being out and about, meeting new people and working. It broadened his horizons and he’s now working for a construction company. From him never being in school, not wanting to work, it’s a real big change for that lad and he’s doing really, really well.

I’m an ex-offender myself and I use my experience and how work really is what changed me. My peers changed, my aspirations changed, how I communicated, looked at life, way I dressed, the way I thought. All of these things change the more time you spend in work. You spend less time on the estate with people making negative decisions, antisocial behaviour, high levels of drug abuse and things like that. When you are in work those things aren’t happening and, in time, you change as a person. You become more like the person you are at work and less like the person you are at home on the estate.

Prison is not like work. The attitudes, behaviours they learn there, that’s how you have to behave to survive in prison. They are automatically going to think that’s how you have to behave at work, because it’s all they know. Consequently, you put someone from a prison wing into work with the attitudes and behaviours you have from prison, they are going to lose that job quite quickly. What we’re offering here is a way of bridging that gap.

BL: What is it like working with ex-offenders?

LW: We’re trying to show that not all of them are violent, dangerous people. There are some that have just made a mistake and just need a bit of lift up to get their life back on track.

Anyone who is new to a business needs some guidance and mentoring. For someone that has never worked before, the thought they have to be there every day doesn’t occur to them, that I need to call in sick doesn’t occur to them, because they’ve never had to do it before. We’re talking about guys who have lived most of their lives without boundaries and work is full of boundaries! That’s why the peer mentoring is important.

BL: Is this a second chance for the people who work for you?

LW: Often people come to me and say it’s great to see organisations giving guys like this a second chance. My response to that is this isn’t a second chance. Quite often this is the only chance that these guys have had. They’ve grown up with low income, often a single parent struggling to make ends meet. Drugs, alcohol in the house. Domestic violence if there are two parents in the house. And this is the life that people that we work with grow up in. Growing up watching people make bad decisions. They learn to make bad decisions.

They grow up in violent homes, they grow up to be violent usually.

A lot of care leavers. I’m a care leaver myself. Nine months after leaving care at 17, I was in prison. Trying to live on £33.17 a week at 17 back in the nineties. Fast forward to 2018, if you’re under 25 and living on your own, you’re living on £55 a week. I couldn’t make that work now.

My crime started from going to shops to steal bags of food, just to survive. And a lot of the crime of the guys we work with is about survival. Even ones that are out committing serious violent offences, when you dig deeper, the violence is born out of the need to survive. The only way they know to do that is violence, because that is what they’ve been taught. Whenever their parents had a problem, they hit them, when siblings had a problem, then hit them. Consequently, when they have a problem they solve it with violence.

If their parents solved all their problems through drugs, they’re going to solve all their problems through drugs. And these are the things we have to get to the bottom of when they are working with us. People are learning new behaviours, new coping mechanisms so they don’t, when things get difficult, revert to their safe space. I’ve done that myself in the past and I know what it takes to leave that behind. You’ve got to deal with the underlying problems.


BL: How have prisons changed?

LW: Back in the nineties it was slop out, 23 hours a day bang up. Very little rehabilitation went on. I came out probably more angry and more violent than when I went in. My second prison sentence someone asked me why I was behaving the way that I was and I told them. My foster father was a paedophile and life was difficult. And consequently, I was a very, very, very angry young man.

That prison offered me counselling, every week for 15 months. I’ve never committed another criminal offence.

What we’ve got at the moment are prisons that are run on a shoestring budget. Shortage of staff, disgruntled staff, disgruntled inmates because they are behind their door 23 hours a day. All the rehabilitation that is meant to be happening is not happening. So what we’re getting is going back to where it was in the nineties. People going into prison angry, marginalised, disconnected from society; getting more angry, further marginalised and further disconnected from society. Coming out of prison supposedly with a lower risk level because this work is meant to be being done. But it isn’t.

They are still high risk so they’re not going to be passed on the Community Rehabilitation Company, they are going to remain with probation. Probation don’t have the staff because these people are meant to go to the Community Rehabilitation Company, but they are not because the rehabilitation work is not being done. Because of money.


BL: So does it actually end up costing more in the long run?

LW: About £13 billion a year to put about 85,000 offenders in custody at the minute. That just covers the cost of incarceration for a year. It doesn’t cover the cost of arrest, investigation, courts, managing someone in the community. It’s not sustainable. It’s bad for everyone. It needs to change. Spending is going down on prevention in the first place, investigation and stopping re-offending.                        

The environment people are living is not good either. You change communities and you change people. And that’s effectively what we do in the workplace. We’re creating a little community at work and change through that community.


BL: So there isn’t much money in the system. Are there creative ways that we can try to have an impact on reducing reoffending?

LW: Well, HMPasties is that! With a relatively decent starting budget to get a food manufacturing and retail business we hope to create a fully sustainable, scalable business model. Where we can franchise it out and grow it across the UK. Not need government hand-outs. Not need charitable income. We will create a quality product that we can sell to members of the public, all made by people with criminal convictions. I’d like to see a HMPasties shop in most main city centres all being supplied from our factory.


BL: What’s the hardest thing you’ve overcome?

LW: Trying to run a business and train new staff. It’s been a baptism of fire that I’m really enjoying. One that’s involving me working in the kitchen at half one in the morning making products! It’s been difficult but we’re getting there.

The most difficult thing is when you see a young person that you’re making progress with, doing really well for themselves and then something starts to go wrong. You can see something is going wrong, they’ll listen and agree something is going wrong. But trying to do something about it before it reaches a real catastrophe is the real difficult part. Because without that catastrophe they aren’t going to learn. Without seeing it happen, they don’t actually believe you that it’s going to happen.

If I had one superpower it would be to have a crystal ball to show them ‘that’s where you’re headed at the moment, this is where you could go if you do things differently’.

My background does break down lots of initial barriers. I never have any problems getting them to trust me. They see me as one of them, even though my life of crime is 20 years behind me. They do look up to me. They see what I’ve achieved and want a bit of that for themselves. It gives them a little hope that this isn’t how it has to be for them. To meet someone who’s been there and isn’t there now and hasn’t been for a long time.


BL: What drives you?

LW: I’ve lived the life that these guys live. Someone took a chance on me, gave me a job and that was the end of my life of crime. I grew up in care and I’d never had that much money and I know how much that changed me. When I look back at me twenty years ago and now, I’m amazed and I want to help other people to do that.

BL: How do you feel about HMPasties?

LW: My proudest moment in my career is getting this up and running.

Seeing the lads loving their day at work. Going home proud that they’ve learned something new. Seeing them get paid, their first honest week’s work.

It’s early days yet, but I hope this will be my legacy.


BL: How does it feel to do your job?

LW: It depends what day you ask me! I love it! I couldn’t see me doing anything else. It can be an emotional rollercoaster at times. It’s kind of my two passions really: rehabilitation and pasties!