SOME diners at the food stop stationed next to a city park just want the gourmet bacon and avocado roll. Others are looking for answers.
The shining airstream truck on Glasgow’s Mansfield Park has welcomed delegations from England, Ireland, El Salvador, all asking the same questions – what makes this work, and will it work for us?
Inspector Iain Murray, who heads the Street & Arrow project, says the model is easily replicated, and could help reduce crime rates, violence and worklessness around the world.
Launched in 2016 as part of Braveheart Industries – an offshoot of Police Scotland’s specialist Violence Reduction Unit – the social enterprise doesn’t just make street food, it remakes people.
Since it was piloted in 2012, around 180 ex-offenders have donned its aprons, learning as much about themselves as about catering and hygiene. A few are kept on a permanent staff when their 12-month traineeships conclude, others take their qualifications and experience with them in what is often their first chance to prove a positive track record to a potential employer.
The programme’s success rate, according to Murray, is almost 90 per cent thanks to a combination of skills training, counselling and “constant support”.
“If you try and love someone into change,” he says, “It works.
“We’re basically parenting people, treating them the way I treat my 12-year-old daughter. It’s about making them feel safe in the environment so that they trust you enough to get vulnerable and disclose the things that are holding them back.
“We effectively look to re-programme people who are not used to being in normality. Some have experienced or witnessed violence at an early age. That’s when their development starts to stop.
“You’ve got to role model how to act and react. They learn how to be an employee, how to be a parent, how to be a brother or sister, how to be the person they were always meant to be, instead of not being able to overcome trauma.
“Some people need the jail,” he adds. “There are some people who you can’t fix but there are many more who, if they are given the right conditions, you can change their life.”
Murray is contracted to work 40 hours a week, but admits his passion for the projects means he can put in twice that. “It’s a passion for trying to change people’s lives and improve the safety of Scotland,” he says. “If we don’t do it, where are we going to be? It’s a vocation.
“I joined the police wanting to make a difference. I’m being given the opportunity to do that.”
The project grew out of lessons learned from the fight against gang violence in Los Angeles. It took the model established there by Homeboy Industries and adapted it for local circumstances. And while the former is based on church work, the latter is unique in being set up by a police force.
Both men and women have joined the programme, some of whom had struggled to win round employers due to their records, even having kicked gangs years earlier. Others have never worked, but most have experienced early traumas that saw their adult lives spiral into chaos.
The problems aren’t unique to Glasgow, or Scotland, which is why bodies from other countries are interested. “We are constantly getting people saying ‘how can we replicate this?’” Murray says. “It’s about taking the concept and making it fit your needs. It’s flexible.
“People come out of prison with barriers across the board, whether that’s reintegrating, trying to get a job or a house, or something else. We want to encourage that sense of hopefulness so they don’t replicate their previous life patterns.
“If you can do that, it’s a win-win. We get them paying tax, we get them contributing to their family and their community. We are saving the public purse considerable amounts of money. If someone is no longer making 17 A&E visits within 12 months for violent injuries, the cost savings are huge.”
Murray, himself a victim of violent crime, says he understands why some people may oppose a public-funded initiative giving employment, training and psychological support to those with criminal records.
But he says he takes “no solace” in knowing that his assailant is in jail. “I’d rather not have been a victim at all,” he explains. “This is a paradigm shift. The guys here, their friends have said ‘can you take me on’, so it has a ripple effect amongst people who thought there was nothing for them.