The day had arrived for my eagerly anticipated “Pret Experience Day” at the Victoria Pret a Manger. It began at 6am – but I didn’t want to be late. I arrived 25 minutes early and wandered around the nearby affluent residential area, seeing homeless people waking up and preparing for their day. It felt apt to start my day at the same time as these rough sleepers, as I was going on this day to gain insight into the 3-month Pret apprenticeship scheme for homeless people, which some of the 999 Club’s homeless service users will also embark on.
I was Jose’s apprentice for the day and he patiently showed me the routine of making a tray of breakfast baguettes: find the recipe card in the bracket on the wall, measure out each ingredient, stuff each baguette with filling and carefully put each sandwich into the plastic bag, placing the sticker in the prescribed manner. We worked like this in unison, measuring out wakame (seaweed salad), edamame (soya beans) smoked salmon, egg salad and other tasty ingredients that go into Pret’s salads, baguettes, small pots and sandwiches. The pace of work was incredibly fast. Kitchen workers rushed around at breakneck speeds assembling salads and sandwiches. The importance of teamwork was extremely apparent: if one person needed help finishing up salads, someone else would step-in to ensure the shelves in the front of the shop were stacked for the morning rush of customers.
My lunch time conversation with the manager, Renata, was very informative. We talked about the effort, commitment and teamwork that the training programme requires. I asked her what she considers to be the most important characteristics of an apprentice. She replied attitude and determination. She said that no matter what a person’s situation is, if they can bring to their Pret experience a positive attitude and determination to keep on going, then they can succeed at Pret in their training and advance in the company. We talked about the Pret a Manger philosophy – to make a lasting difference in homeless people’s lives. Not only does the company donate their fresh food at the end of the day to homeless charities all over London (the 999 Club included), but they also go a step further to tackle homelessness at the root cause. Pret’s apprenticeship scheme for homeless people, offered via the homeless charities they work with, gives people a concrete opportunity to change their lives through employment. I worked hard that day, saw the effects of homelessness in the surrounding affluent neighbourhood, and experienced the work a benevolent corporation is doing to try to alleviate the problem.