The Duchess of Cornwall was given the inside tale on how the lives of women inmates are being transformed as she visited a Cheshire prison and its highly rated restaurant.
Avid reader Camilla, patron of The National Literary Trust, learned how the organisation’s Books Unlocked programme was helping prisoners develop a love of reading and improving basic literacy skills.
The Duchess also met prisoners working at The Clink restaurant, adjacent to the jail, where women with less than 18 months to serve are given the chance to earn City & Guilds NVQ qualifications in food service and food preparation and then helped to find employment within the hospitality industry on their release.
Opened in April 2015, Styal’s Clink – one of four in England and Wales – is open to members of the public and its swish reputation has earned it a current number one ranking on TripAdvisor for restaurants in Wilmslow.
General manager Wendy Unsworth said she was proud of the recognition but that more importantly none of the women who had left The Clink had returned to prison.
She said: “It’s all about learning life skills and customer service.”
Camilla met kitchen staff preparing the day’s menu which included pork tenderloin, venison and sea bream.
She also met prisoner Liz, 53, who had been working front of house at The Clink for four months and had nearly completed her NVQ Level 2 in food and beverages.
Liz said: “I told Camilla that customers come back time after time so it’s good you get to know them.
“I was completely out of my comfort zone when I first started but I have ended up quite enjoying it.
“The hospitality industry is huge so this is something I have got and can certainly consider when I am released.”
The Duchess went on to meet prisoners who have benefited from the various work-based training and education programmes at HMP Styal.
One such initiative is Books Unlocked, a partnership between the trust and the Booker Prize Foundation which started in 2012 and involves prisons across England and Wales.
Prisoners are able to engage with Man Booker Prize-shortlisted titles which are sent out to reading groups.
Last year Styal’s reading group delved into Life of Pi by Yann Martel and this year are looking forward to Harvest by Jim Crace.
Titles are also serialised as audiobooks on National Prison Radio (NPR), which is broadcast into approximately 80,000 prison cells.
Inmate Wendy, 38, a prison radio presenter, joined official media covering the Duchess’s visit.
She said: “She asked us about what NPR was and how it had helped us and we talked about it boosting our confidence and giving us something to aim for.
“Camilla said it was a really good idea and very interesting, and she asked if it was broadcast 24 hours a day which it does.”
Fellow presenter, Mel, 38, added: “It’s a confidence booster. It just goes to show there is life after prison.”
Wendy handed a self-made country meadow bouquet to the Duchess after she signed the restaurant’s visitors book.
Camilla also spoke to prisoner Vanessa, 39, who is a mentor at Styal after learning three new languages, including English, while incarcerated, to add to her native Portuguese.
Vanessa has also taken advantage of learning hairdressing and beauty skills.
She said: “If you are willing to change, willing to rehabilitate , there is a lot of activities inside for that.
“If I was outside there was no way I would have this level of English.”
Looking ahead to her release, she said: “I’m ready.”
Before Camilla left HMP Styal, the Prince of Wales briefly popped into The Clink after earlier visiting the Quarry Bank National Trust site in Styal, as well as the village’s primary school and the Unitarian Chapel.
The royal couple will complete their day in Cheshire with joint engagements in Congleton.