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.

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.