Shaun’s story – “They do what it says on the tin”

Shaun Case Study 1

We caught up with Shaun last week, a beneficiary we started working with back in 2012.

Shaun was released from HMP Pentonville in January 2012 having served six years of a 12 year sentence. When we met him, Shaun was quite verbal about what he called the “do gooders” who come into prison, promise prisoners all kind of help, and then disappear. We were very keen to show him that we’re not in the habit of making promises we can’t keep. He told us:

“When you are in prison all sorts of do-gooders promise you this and that but when you are released these promises disappear.

A Fairer Chance stuck with me and I have now been employed for over four years. This wouldn’t have happened without Maggie and her people. It works both ways though.

If someone is happy to sit in their cell all day and make excuses about no-one wanting to help them they will never get a job. My advice to those people still incarcerated is to take advantage of all available training and education opportunities, show you can graft and then harass your probation worker on release until you are referred to A Fairer Chance”.

A Fairer Chance has enjoyed a long working relationship with Be Onsite, a charity who offer industry specific training for people with disadvantages. We prepped and referred Shaun to a selection day for construction jobs at the Olympic Athletes Village, organised by Be Onsite, and he was successful. At sixty years of age and as fit as a fiddle, he worked really hard. So hard, he was one of only two staff working on the whole site to receive a letter of thanks and a small monetary award for his valued efforts.

Whilst working on this contract at the Olympic Games site, the company promoted him to supervisor. During this time, we worked with other stakeholders to help Shaun access his construction ‘confined spaces’ and other ‘tickets’ to ensure he was highly employable when the work on the Athletes Village finished. He stayed in touch with us regularly for advice, and, happy with the help and support he received from A Fairer Chance, he even made five peer referrals to us, all of whom we were also able to help into work. He undertook an informal mentoring role with some of the younger workers, supporting them through the process of finding employment after custody.

When Shaun finished the contract at the Olympics Athletes Village, we helped him secure a position working on London’s Crossrail Project. He started in November 2012, but in December Shaun got laid off for four weeks over Christmas. He was so used to working that he didn’t want to sit around. We had some temporary night work opportunities in a major retail outlet, and although he was above the usual level of risk, we worked very hard with him to write a strong and positive disclosure. Shaun was offered the role – and in fact, was offered a permanent job on his second day that he felt bad refusing, but he wanted to get back to his work on the rail.

Shaun returned to Crossrail that January and has continued as a valued member of staff with the same contractor since. In the spring of this year, Shaun was asked to work on the Haymarket tunnel development in Edinburgh. Viewed as a very safe pair of hands, he’s been up in Scotland since, with his subsistence and accommodation paid by the company.

Shaun has stayed in touch with us, participating in university research with our Director, Maggie Walsh MBE. Shaun also joined us at a Jobs Fair at HMP Pentonville as a visitor, to speak with a number of serving prisoners and prison staff about his journey since being released, and was very well received.

We spoke with him last week, catching him on a rest day, as he was on the way to meet his son at a university in the north of England. He hasn’t been out of work a day since we helped him secure his first role after leaving custody; thanks to this, and his compliance with the conditions of his licence, Shaun was granted permission to fly to Spain in order to see members of his family. He told us today, “I’ve got my family back”.

Local support for Marcos (Part 2)

Yesterday, we wrote about Marcos, who had attended the Route into Work course.

After completing the course, Marcos was put forward to meet a Transport for London employer recruiting for a Track Maintenance apprentice, to work on the London Underground. Marcos came across really well and after a long recruitment process Marcos was offered the position. This was nearly a year ago, and Marcos is due to finish his apprenticeship next month and start on the next part of his career.

Marcos says:

“Working at Cleshar has changed my life at lot. Not only is it a nice steady job it is also a big chance of a career in track maintenance or rail engineering. Being in work has also helped me improve my skills such as professionalism, team work, gathering information and analytical thinking. I would really advise other young people to get onto this scheme.”

When we spoke to Marcos’s employer earlier this week, this is what he had to say:

“Marcos has been carrying out extensive track maintenance and has helped install new sets of points, carried out re-railing, large crossing renewals.

He has changed sleepers, installed transition rails, and has worked in and out of the tube. In short Marcos has established himself as a reliable and upcoming rail engineer. He will complete his apprenticeship on the 14th October 2015 and we look forward to seeing him progress and work toward becoming a PWT-EH over the next couple of years. He can be very proud of his achievements and the barriers he has overcome to get thus far.”

Cleshar have produced a short video outlining their excellent apprenticeship scheme, which we consider well worth watching.


Local support for Marcos

A Fairer Chance first met Marcos in the summer of 2014. We saw great potential in Marcos and knew given the right opportunity he could build himself a good career and fulfil his potential. He really wanted to learn a trade and build up his skills. He was living in Walthamstow, an area of urban deprivation with high levels of unemployment, and he was struggling to find work.

When we met him, we prepared him for an interview with a major retailer, but unfortunately he wasn’t offered the job, and the employer fed back that they felt he lacked confidence, which would impede him in the role. Working with the Community Development team at Tottenham Hotspur Foundation had built up his confidence significantly, and we could see he was ready to find work, so the last challenge was for Marcos to have the self-belief at interview to convince an employer he was the right person for the job.

We arranged for Marcos to attend Route into Work, a pre-employment course at the London Transport Museum. Delivered by London Transport Museum and supported by Transport for London, the course uses London Transport Museum’s work-related collection of exhibits to inspire young people, build their confidence and equip them with skills they need for employment. The delegates explore different jobs and careers, improve their CVs and prepare for job interviews. The final outcome is to deliver a group presentation to an employer.

Marcos did exceptionally well on this course and was even asked to star in their promotional video. You can see how his confidence has grown, as he describes his experiences in this great short film, showcasing an exceptional example of pre-employment training.

More on Marcos’ story tomorrow…

Is there enough support for skilled ex-offenders?

This week we’ve highlighted the story of Ossie, successful at interview last year for a great skilled role at Transport for London, and offered a permanent position last week. That’s got us thinking about the group of people who enter custody with some seriously good work experience, skills or qualifications under their belts.

Focus understandably mostly falls on those very high numbers of prisoners and people with convictions who have very few or no qualifications, and little or no work experience (likewise for non-offenders such as former NEET Lauren, whose success story we shared last week), and these groups are at the core of what we do. It’s right when they receive attention from the media and that organisations working within resettlement exist to address the challenges faced by these groups. Even the quickest Google search reveals devastatingly low levels of numeracy and literacy amongst the prison population, and we see in the news this week Gove’s talks of bringing powers back to prison Governors on how to make the best use of education within prisons.

But I’d like to open a conversation on the smaller, yet still significant, percentage of prisoners who have a job (under a third of the overall prison population) when they enter prison, but lose it during the time served. From research conducted by CIVITAS Institute for the Study of Civil Society, only one third of these individuals will keep their job. I’ve struggled to find out much more about this group. At A Fairer Chance we know the individuals we meet who fit this description and we understand the challenges they face, but nationwide, or across London, I’ve not been able to find any analyses that reveal anything about their success at returning to employment or difficulties they face. Given a prison population of just over 88,000 last week that suggests a possible 10,000 current, serving prisoners, plus ex-offenders released and now unemployed, who we hope will find work again. What support, guidance and awareness currently exists to make sure this happens?

Any gap in a CV is often a cause for true concern, and we see this across our clients; returning to work after having children, a return to work after a long period of sickness, during or after completing a sentence in custody, we see the psychological effects on clients whose confidence is often at rock bottom. They daren’t hope to find a job to match their skills and experience but are overqualified for entry-level positions, or they become dejected when their efforts to find work are met with rejections. Many employers will ask about criminal convictions and reject candidates on that basis. Opportunities to retrain are often apprenticeships confined to those under 24 years old. In other words, there are a host of barriers to overcome, and these can impact negatively.

Our business model is built on the firm understanding that there are people with convictions (either in custody, or released) who will bring talent to organisations, if the employers are shown that they can recruit safely and confidently from this particular pool. And we do this, as much as we possibly can, where and when we can secure the necessary funding (and sometimes even when we can’t). There are, of course, other great organisations also working on this agenda. Nacro, for example, who produced excellent, clear guidance for employers to make sense of the legislation regarding employing people with convictions, and pioneers and thought leaders such as Richard Branson, making the case for recruiting people with convictions. Similarly, for anyone leaving custody, they can seek the support of another excellent organisation, Unlock, who provide up to date information online or in person. And last week we highlighted the work of some great entrepreneurial initiatives setting examples for creative ways to get serving prisoners or people with convictions working.

Our frustration arises because although we have can have success with the likes of Ossie, we know there are many more people as capable, as motivated to work and who will bring as much to an employer, who we can’t help. Those who won’t fall under the radar of anyone who could refer them to us; those who won’t by luck submit their CV or application to an enlightened employer, or find out and therefore make use of a charity or business initiative. Remember too, prisoners don’t have access to the internet.

Is there enough support for ex-offenders who are ready when they leave prison to return to work? We plan to return to this and other key issues regarding ex-offender employment issues over the coming weeks, but we’d love to hear others’ views on this topic.

Ossie’s journey to success

A Fairer Chance supported Ossie, and here he writes about his experience in his own words:

I was released fromossie custody in October 2012 after serving three months of a 22 month sentence for fraud. Before this, I had been a Business Development Manager, and during my sentence I was given the role as Head Chapel Orderly. I also studied Business Management and completed the Alpha course, and these two courses assisted me in becoming a Toe by Toe Mentor whilst in custody.

On my release I applied for numerous roles provided by companies supposedly supporting prisoners through the gate back out into the community to help them find employment. Unfortunately they didn’t have any positions which I felt matched either my ambition or my skill set, as I wanted a position where I could use my strong communication, analytical and organisation skills. This was frustrating as I was keen to get back into employment, as I have my family to provide for.

I contacted Rozie at A Fairer Chance, as their website displayed many good news stories of ex-offenders gaining employment and starting successful careers. Instantly Rozie began to seek career opportunities for me within large organisations. She got in touch with me one day to advise me that Transport for London (TfL) had six month placement positions in their Projects Department. I didn’t hesitate to ask her to please put me forward.

Rozie organised a day at The Transport Museum, which I attended to gain knowledge, to prepare and assist me and another 11 candidates for the interviews/group assessment day at TfL shortly after. We looked at the history of TfL, the types of roles across the sector, and I researched the job description for the role I was applying for. We also worked on team building and interview techniques and put together a ‘Yellow Panel’ that would be given to the person interviewing me. In the museum there are yellow panels dotted around the wall which each give a biography on people who have made a significant contribution to the transport industry. Rozie asked me to make my own panel so I could highlight all the things I felt I had accomplished to date. After I spent the day at the museum, I went on to write my letter of disclosure, again with Rozie’s support.

On the day of the interview and group assessment I attended along with seven other hopeful candidates. The day was very exciting and the opportunity to work for such a large organisation became much more real as the TfL management team went into great detail about the responsibilities of a Project Support Officer.

After the interview and assessment I desperately awaited the outcome to see if I would be offered the role at TfL. A short time passed and the great news was delivered to me by Rozie that I was successful and could start in April 2015.

I am now a Project Support Officer for the Project and Programme Directorate at TfL and I believe I am excelling in the role, which involves the delivery of projects like the £67m Wandsworth Project, to regenerate the town centre, transform the local area for residents and create new opportunities for businesses. TfL management team have welcomed me and treat me as a normal employee.

At the moment I am actively seeking another opportunity as my six month placement is due to end. I am very thankful to Rozie, A Fairer Chance and TfL, and I believe the work they are doing to support ex-offenders is second to none.

Breaking news: At the end of September, only days after writing this case study, Ossie was successful in securing a permanent position in the Projects & Programmes Directorate as a Project Support Officer. Congratulations Ossie.

The Equality & Inclusion Manager in the Projects & Programmes Directorate, Chad Frankish stated, “We are delighted that Ossie was successful in securing a permanent position and will be staying with us. He has proven to be an enthusiastic, hard-working, valued member of the team and has highlighted the talented individuals that A Fairer Chance has to offer.”

A Fairer Chance lands Lauren her first job

Lauren is employed as a general assistant at a supermarket in North London. These are her own words:

After leaving school I went on to college to study beauty therapy. Once my course finished I was unable to find work and started to sign on at the Hub*. For five months I was going into the Jobcentre daily to look for work, searching online and handing my CV in to shops. I was finding it really hard as I had never worked before and everybody was looking for experience.

My Jobcentre Plus adviser referred me on to A Fairer Chance as they had some retail opportunities and that was exactly what I was looking for. When I went to the first interview with them I thought I wouldn’t have a chance, as I found out they were recruiting for a large supermarket retailer and I assumed they would only be interested in people with experience, but that wasn’t the case. When I met Rozie from A Fairer Chance, she said although I had no experience I had just the right personality for retail and would suit a customer service role. She wanted to invite me back to attend an interview technique workshop, run by A Fairer Chance. I left feeling really pleased that she had thought I would be right for the job.

As I had no work experience and had never been to an interview before, I found the workshop really helpful. We thought about all the questions we could be asked and how to answer them. We also spoke about using skills from our everyday lives and how they could be transferred into a work environment. I am a very shy person but after the workshop I was feeling really confident and prepared for my interview.

I attended my interview at the store. Lots of the questions I was asked in interview were the same that AFC had prepped me for so I came out feeling really confident. When Rozie called me the following week to tell me I had been offered a full-time, permanent job I was over the moon. I couldn’t believe I had got the first job I went for.

Being in work has made a massive difference to my life. My mum is disabled so me making my own money has taken a lot of pressure off my dad as I no longer have to ask him for money all the time. It also means that I can now help out financially if it’s needed. Being in work also gives me a chance to get out of my house when things are very stressful and I have made lots of new friends.

I would definitely recommend A Fairer Chance to other young people who really want to work but are finding it hard to get a foot in the door.

* The Waltham Forest Hub was a Jobcentre geared toward supporting people who were 24 years old and younger.

Inspirational organisations

This post is a pure and simple celebration of some of the inspirational organisations working towards the training and rehabilitation of offenders while in prison – in extremely innovative and entrepreneurial ways.

The Clink
The Clink Charity’s aim is to reduce reoffending through the training and rehabilitation of prisoners. They work in partnership with HMPS, to run various projects within prisons – Clink Restaurants, Clink Events, Clink Gardens – offering NVQ qualifications in Catering, Hospitality and Horticulture.







Alberto Crisci MBE, Founder of The Clink says of the Charity, ‘Through the work and training taking place, we can transform lives and reduce offending rates’. The Clink aims to release 500 ‘graduates’ from their training into employment per year (there are 50 prisoners trained on average in each training unit per year) – but their involvement doesn’t stop there. They help with finding employment and continue to mentor them after release.


The charity currently has four restaurants, but plans to increase that number to 10 by the end of 2017.

While their purpose is rehabilitation through education, the restaurants themselves are a huge success in their own right and have won numerous awards. The restaurant at HMP Cardiff is ranked the No.1 restaurant of almost 1,000 in Cardiff by TripAdvisor, and has been shortlisted by the Welsh public to be crowned ‘Restaurant of the Year in South East Wales’ in The Food Awards Wales 2015.

Fine Cell Work
Fine Cell Work is a social enterprise, founded in 1997, that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework – aiming to foster hope, discipline and self-esteem. The work they do is supported by volunteers from the Embroiders and Quilters Guild, and is undertaken in prisons across the UK.






The prisoners are paid for their work (prisoners earn around 37% of the sale price of each piece), which is then sold around the world. Some are interior design commissions, and some are heritage pieces for organisations such as English Heritage, Tate Modern, and the National Gallery. The work can also be bought online.

Fine Cell Work has 60 volunteers training over 400 prisoners in 29 prisons across England, Scotland and Wales.

Bad Boys Bakery





The Bad Boys Bakery in Brixton was born out of the reality TV show featuring Gordon Ramsey, ‘Gordon Behind Bars’, in which Ramsey set up a professional bakery operating from the prison. The project was formed into a Community Interest Company in 2013, with the help and support of Working Links. The Bakery sells bread and cakes both inside and outside the prison, and has contracts with some bigger retailers.

While in the Bakery, the ‘Boys’ receive on the job training to industry standards with the opportunity to gain accredited qualifications in hospitality and catering, such as NVQs in food preparation, barista training, and awards in customer service – skills and qualifications that will help them to find sustainable work in the future.

The reported reoffending rates among inmates who trained at the bakery are 3% vs. at rate of around 40% overall.

We support and applaud the great work that these organisations are doing. Sadly they are only involving small numbers of prisoners relative to the prison population of around 84,000. We hope that they grow and inspire other schemes that educate and rehabilitate.

Starstruck apprentices

A few posts back we wrote about Sarah, who we supported to apply for a place on the prestigious Fifteen Apprenticeship Programme, during and shortly after leaving custody. She and another young woman who we are delighted to have helped apply, both secured places and started the course this week.

We will keep you updated with their progress over the year, but wanted to share this picture of the new class of apprentices, as they met with none other than Jamie Oliver himself.

Fifteen class of 2016

We wish them all the very best luck for their year of training to become chefs, learning so many new skills on the way.

Women in work

We have recently seen an increase in the number of women either approaching us directly or being referred from our partners. This may be due to the recent “Transforming Rehabilitation” changes as provision for support finding employment, particularly for women leaving prison, appears to be difficult to access. Two women stand out in in particular who we met in the last couple of weeks.

Edwina was referred back to A Fairer Chance by her advisor at the work programme provider PeoplePlus. She served half a 12 year sentence for a non-violent crime but in the two years since her release she hasn’t been able to access paid work. Initially we had helped Edwina secure a role while she was in custody, on “release on temporary licence”, but then she was transferred to another prison so she couldn’t take up the post. When she came back to us, we met with her to discuss her hopes for employment, helped her to prepare for her interview for a paid retail role, and ten days later she started working. The feedback we received from the store after her interview was very strong and Edwina was very pleased with the way we had helped her, for securing the job and supporting her during the interview process but also for having faith in her and her ability to work.

Then we met Pam, a young graduate who had made one bad decision under extreme duress which resulted in a court appearance. Again this was for a non-violent offence. She lost her job, her debt mounted and her confidence was shattered. She was referred to us with the aim of helping her to find a retail post but talking to her we could see she had excellent administration, research and Public Relations skills. We secured a vacancy for an administrator with a multinational property development company, and the fit seemed a good one. We advised Pam to research the employer, polish up her CV and supported her to work on a letter of disclosure for her criminal conviction. Pam was very nervous but did well at interview and started work, on a good salary, on a prestigious West End site two weeks ago.

Both these cases demonstrate how people with convictions can and do make great employees when they are able to meet employers who are aware they are offenders but have balanced that against the skills, attitude and loyalty our beneficiaries bring to their company.

We work with transport and engineering contractors as well as retail and hospitality companies who genuinely welcome applications from our women. Our hope is to be able to offer a London wide service in the near future. As this is a work in progress, we’ll keep you posted with updates.

Food for the soul

Sarah JamieSince our last blog post, we’re so delighted to share with you news that Sarah was offered a place on the Fifteen Apprenticeship Programme, which starts next month. Sarah called our National Accounts Manager Rozie to tell her. Asked how she was feeling about securing a place on the prestigious programme, Sarah replied “Ecstatic… shocked… ecstatic… shocked!”

We’re less shocked. We KNOW she’s brilliant and absolutely deserves this. We are, though, absolutely ecstatic for her. We’ll be keeping in touch as she starts the course, and throughout the programme, so we’ll share more with you about Sarah’s story over the coming months. In the meantime, we’re helping her find a summer job so she can be in the best position before the programme begins.

If you missed it last week, read our interview with Sarah, who was in custody when she first made her application to Fifteen.