Making a mess

28 September 2001 by
Making a mess

Grendon and Springhill Prison has made full use of its inmates to refurbish the officers' mess kitchen to high standards on a limited budget. Carmen Konopka takes a look round the new kitchen.

When a new kitchen was required for the officers at Grendon and Springhill Prison, Tim Mayhew did not let lack of funds deter him. Instead, he took a DIY approach, achieving what he wanted for just £25,000.

"I wanted to aim for the best, but the difficulty in the prison service is that you always have to weigh one thing against another and save as much as you can," says Mayhew, head of catering at the prison at Grendon Underwood, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

The previous kitchen had been run by the prison officers themselves on a part-time basis. Much of it was old and some of the equipment was domestic. Another major difficulty was the fact that it did not have a proper servery - meals were served through a small hatch and officers had to queue down a corridor.

Formerly in the RAF catering corps, Mayhew has been responsible for the inmates' catering since 1996, but he took over responsibility for the officers' mess only last year. To meet standards, he believed that nothing short of complete refurbishment would do.

"Some people thought I meant having a shut-down for a weekend, giving it a quick lick of paint and putting in some new chopping boards," says Mayhew. "But it was essential to make it into a proper kitchen - as good as somewhere outside."

He also firmly rejected a proposal that vending should be introduced as a cheap option. "It's not just that we need to meet food safety regulations," he says, "but it's also important for us to provide catering facilities where the officers can relax, away from the problems and stresses of their job."

The prison is in countryside, surrounded by fields, and is in fact two separate prisons. Springhill is a D-Category open prison with 250 inmates, some serving short-term sentences for minor offences and some "lifers" coming to the end of their sentences. Grendon Prison is a B-Category establishment for 220 inmates, and is Britain's only therapeutic prison for those serving long sentences for serious offences.

About 360 staff work in the two prisons and use the officers' mess, located in an old country house at the heart of the prison building complex.

For six months, temporary kitchen facilities had to be used for the mess kitchen until the new kitchen was completed in April. Lacking the budget to rent a purpose-made temporary kitchen, Mayhew fitted out two standard Portacabins with equipment from Corsair.

Meanwhile, he and the mess manager, Nita Brazier, set about designing the new kitchen themselves. "We looked at the possibility of getting professional designers in," says Mayhew, "but they were talking about large amounts of money - and this was before we had even got a budget agreed. So Nita and I sat down with a sheet of paper and designed the kitchen ourselves."

Mayhew had several key priorities in designing the kitchen. One was to lower the height of the ceiling by 1.2 metres, another was to install effective lighting. Proper ventilation was a concern, as was hygienic cladding for the walls and non-slip flooring. Also, he was determined to have a servery so that officers did not have to queue down the corridor. And hygienic workflow was a must.

There had to be plenty of space in the kitchen, with separate work areas. The kitchen is operated by inmates, so staffing levels tend to be higher than normal. Generally, there are six or seven inmates in there and on average they rotate every three months because of the length of their sentences. While working in the kitchens, some study for catering NVQs.

The resulting design provides a main kitchen for general preparation and cooking and another room that is used for cold preparation, sandwich-making, storage and dishwashing. There is also a servery with hot and cold counters, plus an office.

Equipment line-up

The new kitchen has a Falcon Dominator range with a Corsair griddle and two fryers under a ventilation canopy. Ideally, Mayhew would have liked to install a combination oven, but it would have been difficult to plumb it in. Instead, there is a Victorian potato-baking oven and a Lincat pizza oven. These are mounted above a Foster fridge and freezer on a shelf with a gap under it to provide ventilation for the refrigeration.

Also in the main kitchen is a table, counter and sink for general prep and a Foster double fridge for vegetables and dairy produce. For beverages, there is a wall-mounted Zip Hydroboil Series 2000 boiler.

In the second room, there is a Clenaware Swash undercounter dishwasher and IMC waste disposal unit. There is also an assortment of fridges and freezers, a slicer, a mixer and an Amana microwave oven.

The servery is equipped with a Corsair heated mobile servery with three wells and heated lights, plus a Bartlett chilled mobile servery with a fridge below.

Some of the equipment was retained from the previous kitchen, but new equipment was all purchased through Corsair.

Apart from the floor, ventilation and ceiling, the construction and installation work was done by inmates under the supervision of Mick Green, a civilian foreman whose job it is to oversee inmates' work groups.

Mayhew explains that at any one time the prison population is likely to include about 20 builders, plumbers and electricians, so they had plenty of people to contribute to the job, which included knocking down walls and removing an 800kg iron safe from what is now the servery.

"We couldn't have had a better job done if we had employed outside contractors," says Mayhew.

As well as providing meals for prison officers, the new kitchen also provides buffets for meetings and functions. Meals are a combination of traditional dishes including roast dinners, and fast food such as filled jacket potatoes and pizzas. On average, officers pay £2.50 for two courses.

About once a month, there are special themed lunches. "When we have foreign inmates, we like to put their skills to good use. We've had Turkish, Indian, Cypriot, Chinese and Italian themes, to name just a few," explains Mayhew. "The inmates enjoy making the food and having it appreciated and we know it's really authentic."


  • Bradshaw Microwave Group (Amana) 01275 343000

  • Bartlett Catering Equipment 01442 284284

  • Clenaware Systems 01252 712789

  • Corsair Manufacturing 01295 267021

  • Falcon Foodservice Equipment 01324 554221

  • Foster Refrigerator 0500 691122

  • IMC 01923 718000

  • Lincat 01522 875555

  • Victorian Baking Ovens 01902 351477

  • Zip Heaters (UK) 0870 6088888

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