As we approach our fifth birthday I have decided to write this blog to update you all on the great achievements and also the great challenges we have faced since we set up.

Firstly I’d like to welcome Len Cheston as our first non-executive Director and Chair of our advisory board. He will be joined by others over the summer and will serve a key role as we move forward.

One of the first decisions we have made is that I will take on the role of Chief Executive, taking a step back from operations to set the direction of travel for A Fairer Chance.

We continue to enjoy great support from our employers. There are many organisations, particularly but not exclusively, in the private sector who are convinced of the business case for employing people with convictions.  Sainsbury’s, who have been with us from day 1 have now employed over 600 people through  A Fairer Chance. This includes serving prisoners in prisons across London and Kent. We have placed people in every role from check-out to full store management. Many of our beneficiaries go into skilled roles such as bakers, butchers and fishmongers. Included in this figure are a number of older workers and people with disabilities as our contractors increasingly ask us to use our quality service to help a range of people disadvantaged in the labour market. Our work with Transport For London, that started through the Employment and Skills team , has spread across the  wider business. A formal process for assessing risk was put into place this year and applied to applications from people with convictions, across the full apprenticeship and graduate recruitment programme. We are particularly proud to have placed three talented young Londoners into roles in project management. The most recent recruit being a young woman we originally met in custody. She was the only woman who applied but came top in all the assessments. Watch this space for the full story!

There is no doubt that the funding to deliver our work in custody has all but disappeared. We do our best work in prison and with beneficiaries on release. At present we receive a significant amount of funding from DWP. While this enables us to work with some ex-offenders in the community, many potential beneficiaries are mandated to the Work Programme. Unfortunately those providers don’t seem to have much experience in this specialist area and people with convictions tell us they are “parked”. We are excited about the plans for “reform prisons” and hope to be able to work through this initiative to both deliver relevant employer led employability training but also to secure work for prisoners on ROTL and on release.

We have been able to continue some of our prison works through a partnership with Prospects that has included bringing employers into HMP Brixton. We have been back there this week recruiting bakers for one of our great companies. 

If I were to have one wish it would be that we could work with any ex-offender, irrespective of where they live, what benefit they are on or, as is more and more common, not on any benefit at all, who wants a job.  To quote one of my companies “A Fairer Chance is our favourite source of recruitment because the people they send us actually want to work”. It is really hard to turn people away because we just aren’t funded to work with them

At A Fairer Chance we have met some great people. Many of our beneficiaries keep in touch with us and volunteer to come into prison with us or assist with outreach. We will  be updating their stories over the next couple of week.

I just want to thank all the staff and supporters of A Fairer Chance who have helped us grow and will support us as we go forward making the business case for recruiting people with convictions.

We would also like to send massive congratulations to our Research and Development Associate Gen and her husband Barry on the birth of their beautiful daughter Maia!

Maggie Walsh MBE

Chief Executive

Recent prison events bring A Fairer Chance back into custody

We were recently delighted to be invited by Prospects to attend a number of successful recruitment events across London prisons in February and March. Our staff attended HMP Brixton, HMYOI Feltham, HMP Belmarsh and HMP Wandsworth, meeting men due to be released within the coming weeks, to give them advice and guidance in their search for a job on release. Prospects are one of the largest providers of custodial IAG (information, advice and guidance), and we were pleased to meet with so many great organisations engaged by Prospects to work in partnership at each of these events, bringing welcome services, support and job opportunities for those in custody, either during their sentence, through the gate or on release. It was a great for us to get back into custody, to do what we do best, and we are grateful for Prospects for granting us this opportunity.

Our role at these events was to attend to discuss employment with prisoners and identify potential barriers they may face in their job search. We gave all the prisoners we met a tailored action plan, as in many instances, potentially the largest barriers that the men we met face way may be their lack of the correct documentation, i.e. a passport, long birth certificate or biometric card proving their right to work in the UK, or having their own bank account. We were also able to advise prisoners to fill in their CV gaps as, so often prisoners in custody prefer not to include the experience gained through work and qualification whilst inside prison, yet often these experiences are valuable in finding work on release, and demonstrate motivation and work ethic to potential emplohand-299675_640yers.

Across all four events, many of the men we met did not have written letters of disclosures, and indeed for the most part, had not heard of disclosure. We have strong views on this subject as it is shown time and time again that a person with convictions starting work before or after the end of a custodial sentence, will have in consequence the best chance of avoiding reoffending. As such, campaigning has taken place in recent years to try to reduce employers asking for disclosure of convictions at the job application stage. There is obvious logic to this drive to allow employers to meet candidates and judge them on their merits, not on the category into which they fall, as an ‘ex-offender’. A Fairer Chance, however, takes a different approach to helping our beneficiaries to find work when it comes to this issue of disclosure.

Whilst we absolutely believe that our clients should not need to be treated differently because of their past, we do have confidence that sending our clients to meet sympathetic employers is a more sustainable approach. Whilst it is possible for candidates to apply for a position without the employer being aware of their convictions, what can happen in consequence is that the conversation arises further along the recruitment process, and may lead to a person with convictions facing the challenge of disclosing in person, without feeling prepared, or having had the support to be ready to do so. They may be subject to the “luck of the draw”, in terms of the attitudes of their interview panel or, further on, managing staff and colleagues. Sometimes, this leads to the accidental violation of people’s right to keep their disclosure limited to only those staff members within an organisation who genuinely need to know, with potential harmful impact on the day to day carrying out of the roles and responsibilities of their job.

One of our first priorities when we work with our beneficiaries with convictions is to ask to see their letter of disclosure, and if they don’t have one, to help them to prepare one. We see first-hand the enormous psychological benefits of going through this process. Whilst it can be challenging to have to focus back on the past and to discuss the circumstances that led to offences, it can also be cathartic, and making a commitment in writing to turning their life around for the better is incredibly rewarding and motivating. In fact, going in to interview with a good disclosure letter is an opportunity for a candidate to show themselves in a positive light to an employer, not open to everyone, and may even set the candidate ahead! And with regard to the protection of employers and the safeguarding of victims in the community, we can be sensitive to any issues when putting candidates forward for interview.

As such, at these recent events we discussed disclosure with the men we met, and invited them to contact us on release for our disclosure guidance, if they had not yet been offered an opportunity to write a letter of disclosure by an organisation within, or shortly after leaving prison. Due to the nature of funding for successful job outcomes for people with convictions, we were unable to guarantee we could help those who we met across the four events, but should they be released to an area in which we have funding arrangements, we hope to meet with them and link them with our enlightened employers.

A Fairer Chance is busy for National Apprenticeship Week 2016

This week is National Apprenticeship Week, with the theme, “An apprenticeship can take you anywhere”. We’ve blogged before on this topic, as we’re very enthusiastic about quality apprenticeships, which pay fairly and provide a solid foundation for a career ahead.

Across the country throughout this week, events and initiatives will take place to encourage more employers to offer apprenticeships, and for potential apprentices to find out more about what opportunities are currently on offer. This map lists all the events happening each day.

We will be busy again here at A Fairer Chance during this year’s current National Apprenticeship Week, and we are excited to be accompanying eight beneficiaries to City Hall this Thursday 17 March, where Transport for London and several large, multi-national supply chain companies will be offering a range of exciting opportunities in rail, highways, design engineering, underground, telecommunications, IT and systems management, vehicle mechanics, transport operations and more. There will be details on the day of over 160 available apprenticeships, and our clients, who are not in employment, education or training (NEET), including some with criminal convictions, will have the opportunity to hear about these opportunities from industry experts and current apprentices. Last year, we wrote about Marcos, who was successful in securing a Track Maintenance apprenticeship, and his experience is a flavour of what could lie ahead for our hopeful clients after Thursday’s event. (Watch this space too, as just this week we have successfully placed another young man with convictions with Cleshar Contract Services.)

At the end of the week, this Friday 18 March, two of our beneficiaries who were successful in obtaining positions on the prestigious Jamie’s Fifteen Apprenticeship Programme (read about Sarah’s success) will be participating in an apprentice challenge, showing off their new skills honed since starting the scheme back in September and we look forward to seeing them in action, not to mention tasting some delicious treats. Without a doubt, a place on this programme can open doors in their careers.

Members of our staff will also be attending Jobcentre Plus offices in London, to meet more young people, and we hope for some an apprenticeship may well provide them with the necessary steps to take their careers and lives in new and fruitful directions.

If you are an employer with apprenticeship opportunities, don’t forget to pledge your apprenticeships.

Merry Christmas

We at A Fairer Chance would like to wish all our employers, partners and beneficiaries a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

2015 has been a year of continued hard work building relationships with employers and finding the best opportunities for our beneficiaries. Amongst a changing environment, brought about through the implementation of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda, it’s also been a year of great recognition for our work. Here are some highlights:

  • On Friday 13th February, Director Maggie Walsh was awarded an MBE for services to the employment of ex-offenders, and attended the investiture at Buckingham Palace. We wrote about her outstanding achievement here.
  • In March Cleshar Contract Services nominated A Fairer Chance for the Pre-employment Training and Job Brokerage Award, detailing our work presenting employers with a sound business case for employing young Londoners with convictions or who are not in education, employment or training (NEET), and the committed pre-employment support we offer young people, to turn lives around through employment. We won, and attended the award ceremony at City Hall.
  • This year we took on our first beneficiary under work experience, who has been learning the ropes with us here at A Fairer Chance. Since we wrote about Reese at the end of October, a fantastic opportunity has arisen, which we can hopefully tell you more about in the New Year.
  • We completed a successful programme in Lambeth, where we helped over 50 beneficiaries with barriers to work, to either move into training or paid employment.
  • We’re half way through another Waltham Forest programme, and have seen 21 local residents go into work in the last four weeks.
  • This year we ran a number of prison events, to which we brought our fantastic employers to meet beneficiaries. These included jobs fairs at HMP Brixton jobs fair in January, and HMP/YOI Isis and HMP Holloway in March.
  • At the HMP Holloway jobs fair in March we met a beneficiary called Sarah, who along with another of our clients, was successful in her application for the prestigious Fifteen Apprenticeship Programme. We asked her about the experience back in July.
  • We had our first successful placement directly with TfL. Ossie impressed them to such a degree we’ve been asked in consequence to discuss a second placement within the same department, which would involve a further recruitment selection day in the New Year.
  • A Fairer Chance moved into the digital world for the first time in 2015, and we ran a successful campaign focusing on real life second chances, made possible by A Fairer Chance.
  • To round off the year we attended the BITC Impact Exhibition last week, part of their AGM and Annual Leadership Network. Here we got the chance to meet a number of great enterprises alongside a host of open minded employers, with whom we look forward to establishing further contact in the New Year. The event was very well attended, and we found ourselves in royal company once again, as HRH The Prince of Wales, (BITC is the Prince’s responsible business network), was in attendance.

Thank you to all our partners and employers for their support this year.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Best wishes

The A Fairer Chance Team

“Things went from strength to strength for me” – Chris’ story

Chris“When I first met A Fairer Chance, I had only been out of prison for two months after serving three years of a five year sentence for possession with intent to supply class A drugs. If I am completely honest, because of the conviction I had and the length of sentence I received, I thought there was no hope of getting work. I’m not a pessimist but in the back of my head I was sure I would end up needing to break the law to survive. I have two young sons to provide for and I felt helpless.

Before going to prison, I had worked all my life and was a hard worker. I wanted to work but felt I was knocked back at every opportunity due to my conviction. In November 2012, the organisation that was supposedly helping me into work invited me to meet A Fairer Chance. I was reluctant at first, because I thought it was just another undermining, pointless exercise that will fall short of the promises made to me, however after attending the initial vetting process, I was completely surprised by the way in which A Fairer Chance came across. It was a breath of fresh air.

A Fairer Chance saw something in me and said they wanted to work with me. Rozie, the National Account Manager, and I worked together to write a personal letter of disclosure not only to explain my previous convictions, but to also highlight all the positive things I had achieved and why I would be an asset to an employer. A Fairer Chance informed me that as they worked with Sainsbury’s and they knew about some Christmas temp vacancies at a store near me. They explained that Sainsbury’s is an amazing employer who operate a ‘You Can’ programme; providing opportunities to people who might otherwise face barriers into employment, such as myself. Rozie arranged the interview and I was shocked and happy to learn that I had been successful and would be starting the role at the beginning of December 2012. I was sad to hear that as a temporary role, it was only going to be for six weeks, but I really enjoyed my new role and knew it was a big step forward. At the end of the six weeks, I was over the moon when the store told me that they would like to keep me on and give me a permanent contract.

Work was going really well; I really enjoyed being employed full time and providing for my family. After almost a year, a special opportunity arose through the BBC programme, ‘The choir, sing while you work’, who picked our store to appear in their show. They were looking for store colleagues to be a part of the company choir and compete against other businesses. Although I was nervous, I thought it would be a good experience so I signed up and was luckily selected for the show. It was great fun working with the team and learning songs to perform. As part of the shows I was asked to talk about my experience at Sainsbury’s and I even disclosed my past on the show. It felt really good to do this as the show was positive, and showed me that Sainsbury’s were behind me 100% and that I was not being judged on my past.

After the show, things went from strength to strength for me. I was selected to take part in training and soon became a team leader. I have now been a team leader in a number of departments and next month will have completed three years’ service since starting out with my ‘six week temp job’.

I am really grateful and praise God every day for the opportunity A Fairer Chance helped to find and my employer, Sainsbury’s, for giving me a second chance. Sainsbury’s have given me every opportunity of having a good career. Having been promoted once already, I am now on the shortlist again for a promotion to be a Department Manager in Training within six months. This has proven that there are employers who will not discriminate on the basis of a person’s background.

I can honestly say that without A Fairer Chance working to help and support people such as myself, I would be in a difficult position facing the many barriers and obstacles on my own, which leaves a person at risk of reoffending in order to survive.

Thank you again.”

The above is Chris’ story, written in his own words.

Kevin’s positive disclosure leads to job success

At 17 years of age, Kevin* was sentenced to three years at a young offenders institute for possession of a firearm. After completing half of his sentence he was released earlier this year.

Kevin signed up with two organisations who work with ex-offenders trying to find employment but unfortunately, neither were successful in helping Kevin to get a job. He was referred to A Fairer Chance by his Jobcentre Plus Adviser at The Hub**, and he met with Rozie, our National Campaign Manager, for a one on one diagnostic interview. He had been told we were currently recruiting for a retail supermarket store and before he met with us he had used his initiative to visit their website and research the type of vacancies available and note which ones he thought he would be good at. He came across very well and seemed genuinely interested in finding work to help keep himself out of trouble.

Rozie worked with Kevin to write a personal positive letter of disclosure, which he is happy for us to share with you:

iStock_000040149056_Small“My name is Kevin and I am 19 years old.

I am really keen to start work and your company seems like a fantastic opportunity. After doing some research on the vacancies at your store I think I could be a good fit for an online retail assistant.

I am happy to start work early and work as hard as needed.

I do not have much work experience as when I was 17 I made a very stupid mistake and went and collected a package for someone, knowing that it could be something illegal, and it was. I was sentenced to a young offenders institute for 18 months for possession of a firearm.

Although this is one of the biggest mistakes of my life, while in prison I got an education, took a number of courses and really got a chance to think about how I want to live my life. Since release I have completely removed myself from all the negatives in my life, am working with a number of organisations and sticking to my probation.

I now really want to find a job where I can have some structure in my life, earn my own money and make my mum proud. I feel your company could be a fantastic place for me to do this.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.”

After working further with Kevin on interview technique and customer service based training, we invited him to a local store to sit an in-house customer service exam. He passed with a score of 98%. He was invited to interview for the department he had shown an interest in and was offered a job on the spot with a start date of the very next day.

Kevin has now completed his induction and started work.

Kevin says: After looking for work for over 6 months I can’t believe how quickly A Fairer Chance found me something. I would recommend anyone who has been released from prison to AFC. I really appreciate their help.”

* Not his real name

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

Meet Reese

A Fairer Chance first mReeseet Reese at a jobs fair in HMP/YOI Isis in September 2014, as he was reaching the end of a combined sentence of over two years. This was his second time in prison. In his own words, serving his first sentence was, “like youth camp”, but the second, “like hell”. Having lost control of his life, he decided to stop smoking cannabis and sought guidance within the prison to find out how he could start a career on release. His dream was to become a work advisor and mentor, building on an Information, Advice and Guidance qualification, but when he sought guidance from advisors working inside the prison, he was advised this wasn’t an option due to his criminal record.

Reese had very little confidence that he could act on his dreams once he left prison for the second time. He was enrolled on a mentoring scheme, which arranged for Reese to start work as a kitchen porter. With no fixed address, Reese starting working 13-14 hour shifts, six days a week, with 4.5 hours travel each day, making minimum wage: just enough to cover his living costs, with very little left to spare. His “sofa-surfing” sleeping arrangements were at the mercy of other people’s schedules. Reese quickly started to look for a better role. He faced months of limbo, facing rejections for more minimum wage positions, and eventually, after a couple of months, stopped the unsustainable kitchen porter role.

Reese was referred to us and he met with Maggie, Director at A Fairer Chance. He explained his career aspirations and she was only too happy to contradict the information he had received in prison. Convictions aren’t necessarily a barrier, and ex-offenders can and often do become excellent role models and mentors to help others in a similar situation turn their lives around. Given the nature of our work, Maggie saw an opportunity to help Reese, arranging for him to come and shadow her for a day as she met with a new employer. He describes this day as a huge boost to his confidence. Having been prepared beforehand by Maggie to know what to expect on the day, at the end of the meeting, Maggie asked him if there was anything he would like to add. This prompted a fruitful conversation, where Reese did a fantastic job of engaging the employer with his experience and views.

Reese has now embarked on eight weeks of work experience with A Fairer Chance, working three or four days a week, spending some time shadowing staff. He has attended jobs fairs in prisons and recalls with delight the first person he helped into work – a young man who he had been his neighbour inside the prison. He recalls thinking he was more excited than the candidate at hearing the good news. He is now able to think of himself as a Work Advisor, a realisation which came home to him one day conducting assessments with a room full of candidates. In their eyes he was a professional, carrying out his work, not an ‘ex-offender’. He has a routine, plans his weeks ahead and enjoys his work.

He has his own accommodation now, too. Maggie and Rozie helped Reese apply for housing in a charity hostel in London, and appealed the initial decision rejecting his application. Within a fortnight of the appeal, a delighted Reese moved into his own place. He describes the support he has received from A Fairer Chance as being, “physical, psychological and financial”.

Whilst Reese’s situation keeps improving in terms of housing, work and most importantly perhaps, his self-esteem and confidence, there remain challenges ahead: his housing will rise from a nominal rent up to £280 per week, should he start to work any number of paid hours of work, and his work experience will come to an end after the eight weeks are up. We are doing all we can to research and explore sustainable routes forward, that will allow Reese to follow his career goals and keep a place to live. He attended an interview at the end of the week for a fantastic role, so we will keep you posted.

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…