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.

Food for thought

Last week was the final round for applicants hoping to secure a place on this year’s Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen apprenticeship scheme. This innovative and hugely successful scheme attracts around 200 applications each year all wanting a place on the year-long apprenticeship, which offers college and kitchen training alongside personal development opportunities to young people in London. 18 apprentices are eventually chosen, and if you want you can read more about the scheme and what the year holds for the successful applicants on their website. We’ve put forward a number of young people since the scheme started, one of whom has now successfully graduated from the programme, and are always looking out for potential new apprentices with a passion for cooking.

We love apprenticeships. When they work well, they offer so much more than just a salary. We also know how popular apprenticeships are at the moment with the young people we work with, as they regularly tell us. Not becoming burdened with the huge debts that are the reality of going to university today, or perhaps not having gained enough qualifications, make becoming an apprentice seem an attractive option. Worryingly, the rate of apprenticeships – after an apparent boom in popularity – has been falling again in recent years. Moreover, many apprenticeships offer little more than low quality training or work experience, and a very low wage. Our eyes are always peeled to spot genuine, life-changing apprenticeships for our young people. We know through our experience that employers who recognise talent, and then nurture their staff and apprentices, not only turn lives round but they can also increase their company’s productivity.

Fifteen is a particularly great opportunity, as their wraparound service is so comprehensive. More often than not, the young people we meet – whether out of work in the community, or in custody – have complex needs in regard to family, housing, managing finances (and a whole host more), and as a result they may not have achieved highly in education, or managed to overcome barriers preventing them finding, and then holding down, a job or apprenticeship. Fifteen offer their “Open Door Programme” to address and overcome a range of issues (which you can also read about on their website).

This year, we’ve helped a young woman called Sarah apply, and we’re so pleased and proud of her for reaching the final stage, which means working a shift in the Fifteen kitchen this week. Back in May, our National Account Manager Rozie met Sarah in custody in HMP Holloway, and helped her apply, overcoming the challenges of applying from inside a prison without access to the online application processes. Sarah has passed a challenging three further stages to get to where she is today – two days of cooking activities in the training kitchens, a day of group activities in Borough Market, and a one-to-one interview.

Rozie recently caught up with her, and asked her a few questions about her experience so far:

Rozie: “How did you hear about Jamie’s fifteen apprenticeship programme?”

Sarah: “A few months ago I got the chance to attend a job fair at HMP Holloway prison, where I met some really nice people with some really good jobs, but the one that stuck out for me were the ladies from Fifteen. I went and spoke to them because I love cooking and out of everyone there I thought they would be able to offer me the best advice. While talking to them I realised that I ticked all the boxes for the apprenticeship and this could really be something I could go for. They said I would have to apply and write about why I like to cook and what my favourite things to cook are. That night I went back to my cell and started to write it all up. I got to think about this opportunity for a few weeks before Rozie from A Fairer Chance came in with the application and I still really wanted to go for it.”

Rozie: “How did you feel when you were told you’ve reached the final stage (we’re very proud of you!)?”

Sarah: “Ecstatic! I was really happy. I thought I had messed up on one of my days in the training kitchens and was really worried but when I was told I had made it through to the next stage I was over the moon. It feels really good to be doing something for myself.”

Rozie: “Tell me about your experience with the recruitment process so far? How have you found it?

Sarah: “I didn’t realise how many stages there would be! I spent a long time on the application and then assumed I would do some practical stuff and know if I was through or not but there has been a lot more to it. I have spent time in the training kitchens, done cooking tasks, one to one interviews, group tasks and I still have 1 more round to go! But I am really enjoying it.”

Rozie: “What’s been your favourite part about applying so far?”

Sarah: “I really enjoyed going to Borough market. I had never been before and there were so many stalls! We got to meet suppliers who have worked with Jamie’s and it was great trying some of the products. I had never seen so many different products in one place and it was great finding out about them all. We met people selling fruit and veg, meat, cheese, fish and I even went to a game butchers and bought a pigeon!”

Rozie: “What’s been the most challenging thing for you about applying so far?”

Sarah: “The first round was the hardest for me. I had only been out of prison for two days when I went and spent a day in the training kitchens. I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought I would just be asked to do some basic cooking tasks but we did some fishmongery and butchery and it was a lot harder than I expected! But I threw myself in and was surprise how much I enjoyed it.”

Rozie: “What experience cooking have you had in the past?”

Sarah: “Apart from home cooking which I have always enjoyed, I have also worked in prison kitchens. I am really good at following recipes and working with very basic ingredients.  In the prison kitchens, I was responsible for preparing and cooking a range of meals using a variety of cooking methods and ingredients.”

Rozie: “Why would you like to train in Jamie’s kitchen?”

Sarah: “I feel because of the name attached to this apprenticeship it is of a much higher quality than other apprenticeship programmes. I have read through some of the year books and I know a lot of the successful apprentices have had previous personal issues like myself but there seems to be a full wrap around service offered and real support. Also the training offered isn’t just the basics but real training, like I could do this and really be a chef!”

Rozie: “Where would you like to be in 5 years?”

Sarah: “Obviously, one day I would like my own restaurant or catering company but I would like to spend a few years working under people and learning as much as possible. Different cuisines, different styles, and find out what I enjoy and work as a head chef somewhere. I want to learn as much as I can!”

Rozie: “How have you found working with A Fairer Chance?”

Sarah: “Really helpful. They have been so supportive. Rozie was coming into HMP Holloway to see me and help me with my application form on a weekly basis. Since release I haven’t had to chase them, they have stayed in touch with me and always contact me to see how I am doing. I don’t feel shy to ask for help as I know they genuinely want to help me.”

Rozie: “Firstly, what’s your favourite dish to cook, and secondly, to eat?”

Sarah: “My favourite dish to cook is rice and peas with fried chicken thighs and sticky citrus chicken wings and my favourite meal to eat is my mum’s leg of lamb. After she has cooked it she strips all the meat and then soaks it in the gravy. It is amazing!”

This is the reason we love our work. Sarah has proved to be a strong contender for the apprenticeship by getting this far, overcoming difficult circumstances. Whatever the outcome from last week, we’re confident she will be going places and putting her talent in the kitchen to good use.

We’ll write again next week to let you know how Sarah got on during her final day in the kitchen. Watch this space.


A Fairer Chance wins award at City Hall

Last month we announced that we had been nominated by Cleshar Contract Services for one of the Mayor’s Fund for London Employment Awards 2015. The evening of Tuesday 12th March saw our Directors Maggie and Tapan, Office Manager Linda, Cleshar’s Simon Harrison and myself at City Hall meeting some of the great and the good of youth employment in London.  During the ceremony, the efforts of many organisations and individuals carrying out inspiring work in youth employment were recognised. To our absolute delight we were awarded Pre-Employment Training & Job Brokerage Provider of the Year!

Two fantastic organisations were also shortlisted for this award: Care Trade Charitable Trust, an organisation promoting opportunities for young people with autistic spectrum conditions and last year’s winner, MiddletonMurray, a recruitment and apprenticeship specialist working with NEETs. We had a great evening meeting representatives from both these organisations, and many more besides, devoted to bringing hope and real opportunities to London’s youth. We’ve come away even more determined than ever to do everything within our power to successfully bring together committed, conscientious employers with individuals deserving a fairer chance.

Read more to find out about the finalists and shortlisted organisations and individuals, and also more about the award ceremony and members of the award panel.

Finally we would like to reiterate our thanks to Cleshar Contract Services. Not only did they nominate us for this award but they continue to have faith in us, and more importantly, in the young people they employ. Like all our wonderful employers, they are changing lives in countless ways when they look beyond stereotypes and perceived risks, and give a young Londoner an apprenticeship or job.

A Fairer Chance Operations Director Maggie Walsh, awarded MBE

Today is a remarkable day for A Fairer Chance, as our Operations Director Maggie Walsh MBE will be officially awarded her Member of the Order of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace this morning.

Maggie appeared on the honours list published on the Queen’s official birthday last June, for services to the Employment of Ex-Offenders. The ceremony, known as an Investiture, is likely to take place in the Ballroom, and around 120 people, including Maggie, will receive their Order, decoration or medals from HM The Queen, HRH The Prince of Wales or HRH The Duke of Cambridge.

We asked her earlier in the week for her thoughts on her fantastic achievement:

Interviewer: When did you first hear about being awarded the MBE?

Maggie: I got the letter in April last year, and I was very surprised when this padded envelope came through the door, because getting this honour was not on my radar!

I: What does it mean to you to have been awarded this MBE?

M: I’d be lying if I said that personally I wasn’t really chuffed. I think we all thrive on a bit of acknowledgement, but for me this is so much about the work we do at A Fairer Chance; the work we did at the Department of Work and Pensions before, but absolutely about our work.

I: What do you think being honoured in this way will mean to A Fairer Chance?

M: Well, it’s already raised our profile. It’s quite interesting, I received a letter from Iain Duncan Smith MP at one end, and at the other end, quite a lot of companies who knew of us, or who we know of, took the opportunity to get in touch, congratulate me, and to meet us. Yes, I think it’s done us a lot of good.

I: What will you be doing to celebrate?

M: On the day (Friday the 13th! Only I could get my invitation for that day), I’m having a private lunch with my immediate family and a couple of my really supportive employers who have really set us on our way. On the following day I’m having a vintage tea party for all the friends, family, employers and beneficiaries we’ve worked with over the last four years, with the odd glass of sparkly as the afternoon goes on!

All of us at A Fairer Chance would like to say a huge congratulations to Maggie for this acknowledgement for all her fantastic work.

A Fairer Chance shortlisted for Mayor’s Fund for London Awards 2015

A Fairer Chance has been nominated for an award! We are all over the moon and delighted today as we received confirmation this morning that we have been shortlisted for the Mayor’s Fund for London Awards 2015 – Employment for Young Londoners.

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.

In April 2013 we placed our first young candidate into a role within the transport sector, and have continued since to steadily find employment and apprenticeship opportunities, with 34 young Londoners placed into roles across five transport companies to date.

Given that we work with some of the most marginalised young Londoners, it means the world to us to have been shortlisted for this award. This is an opportunity to bring our business model, successes and hard work to the public eye and can only help us to grow stronger and more determined to continue to do what we can to prepare people for work and link them up to good jobs with decent employers, where they can gain skills on the way to bring about lasting change in their lives.

We would like to express our huge appreciation to Simon Harrison and his colleagues at Cleshar, not only for their nomination, but for their faith in us and the young people they employ through A Fairer Chance.

We now eagerly await the Awards Ceremony at City Hall on 12 March 2015. Read more about the event and see who have been nominated for the seven awards on the Mayor’s Fund for London website.

Merry Christmas

As 2014 draws to an end we would like to take this opportunity to wish all our employers, partners and beneficiaries a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

We have had a fantastic year at A Fairer Chance and are looking forward to 2015. We already have a number of exciting events and projects lined up so keep checking the website for news and updates.

We would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the great work we have delivered through the year:

  • Over 100 people placed with our leading retailer, Sainsbury’s. Many have gone into skilled roles including bakery, fishmongery and butchery. In November we placed the first person directly into a store management role.
  • Worked with Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, Charlton Athletic and Arsenal in the Community to welcome local people into these great organisations. Collaborated on job preparation and motivational workshops and helped over thirty people directly secure employment.
  • Working with DWP and Waltham Forest council we have helped over 30 residents including people with convictions and care leavers secure work.
  • With our partners, Working Links, we have delivered Employment Events in the London prisons resulting in both ROTL offers and jobs on release.
  • We have been recognised by TFL Supplies and skills team as organisation of choice to prepare and place young people into paid work and apprenticeships across rail, highways and business development.
  • Supported two young prisoners apply to BBC Traineeship on the strength of the skills and training they had received through Prison Radio . One is now employed by the BBC and the other working for a major Arts Centre in London.
  • Working with Lendlease through BeOnsite we have supported both serving prisoners and people in the community into paid work on The Elephant and Castle development. This has included two exceptional men who have secured management jobs with contractors on the supply chain.
  • Run employment events and other activities in Kent and Sussex prisons with TMC. Partnered on employment activity in London and Kent with Changing Paths. Charity supported by Wates and delivering quality Stone Masonry training in HMP Rochester.

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


Welcome to our new website. Keep checking in for news and updates. This Wednesday we will be at Tottenham Hotspur Football Stadium helping local people with advice on work and training.

We will be in Acton on Thursday at an ex offender job fair. Follow us on twitter for more news and updates #afairerchance.