My work as a teacher convinced me that school wasn’t always the best place for everyone, or at least that some youngsters could really benefit from some ‘real life’ input as part of the mix. I was really impressed by Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, which featured in a documentary around the time I was thinking about ideas for what became the Ridge. He took in 15 youngsters who were not in Employment, Education or Training, put them a really high quality restaurant in London’s East End – there they were expected to turn up and to TRY, and it was largely their efforts that contributed to the success of the restaurant.
It was never a smooth ride – they all had ‘issues’, but they were able to go to college and gain qualifications at the same time as working, and could see that what they were doing was ‘real’ and that putting in the effort really was in their interest, as well as giving them huge pride in what they were part of creating. Almost all of them are now running restaurants, all over the world. The format runs yearly, and has been replicated at Fifteen Cornwall.
I love good food, especially when local produce is used. We are so lucky here in East Lothian to have some of the best and widest-ranging produce in the world. I was also really inspired by the Manoir aux 4 Saisons, where the restaurant is supplied by its own fabulous garden. I wanted to bring together the training potential for horticulture and cooking/hospitality, with a quality restaurant with garden attached. With others, I set up the Ridge, and we set out to demonstrate that there is indeed a need for this sort of training, and that we are the people to provide it.
What we have ended up offering is a lot wider than the original vision (we do things like general employability training with a focus on Social Care, or Construction, and support training at the local Fashion School and Equine Therapy centre) but we are able to be very responsive to actual needs locally, and to deliver these things alongside our original vision, without any loss to that core vision.
We run the training cafe at Bleachingfield and have a training garden at the Dunbar Backlands, which is a sort of microcosm of the original plan. We are now carrying out a feasibility study to see if the big vision is still relevant, and if so, whether/how we need to adjust it to meet local needs. For me, it’s a really exciting journey – we have achieved so much, and I feel really privileged to work alongside a team of passionate and talented people, all committed to creating better opportunities for our local community. I’m very much looking forward to whatever the next steps may be, building on what we have already created, to do more and to do it even better.