A FORMER inmate at Reading Gaol is now a successful chef and "would love to see" the site turned into a youth centre.

Jon Watts, 30, served three years and three months of a six and a half year sentence for GBH and ABH in the Reading Young Offenders' Institute from the age of 19.

Whilst in custody, Mr Watts began working towards his Duke of Edinburgh Award (DofE) which is where he discovered a passion for cooking and changed his life.

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He said: "I got DofE bronze, silver and gold awards.

"But the real change came in working towards them."

He explained that his confidence and self esteem grew.

He continued: "I learnt problem solving skills, how to work as part of a team and much, much more."

Mr Watts is now a highly successful chef and thinks it would be a "shame" for the prison to be sold to the highest bidder given its history.

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He believes that turning the gaol into an arts and heritage hub would be "brilliant, in fact ideal".

He added: "Given the connection I have, I would love to see it used as some sort of training centre/youth centre."

During his time in prison, he worked as a listener for the Samaritans where he received training to 'listen' to other prisoners who may want to discuss issues.

He said: "This opened my eyes to a lot of things.

"I found volunteering as part of the award helped me to empathise and I feel it changed me for the better."

Mr Watts also worked in the officer's mess towards an NVQ in professional cookery.

Towards the end of his sentence, he was offered a job in one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants where he was then offered full time employment upon release.

He worked for Jamie's Italian until the end of 2014 and in that time he spent his days off working for free in Michelin starred restaurants to continue his learning.

Following this, he decided to set up his own catering business, buying a food truck for events.

His business has enabled him to gain a three month contract to cater for the X Factor house in 2016 and cater for a Take That music video.

In 2017, he was approached by a company to take on a contract to cater for 100 employees Monday to Friday lunchtimes.

He sold the food truck and still has this contract now.

He also spends time mentoring children via the youth offending team, with some gaining work in kitchens.