“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world – indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
This quote resonates with me when I consider the work we have been doing at Greggs on the reducing offending agenda since 2010.
We first got involved after our CEO was invited by Business In the Community to visit HMP Low Newton – a female prison in the North East. At the end of the visit, the Governor simply asked the business leaders to ‘just come back.’
We collectively worked with the prison team to develop Get Into Work: various modules ran by different businesses focusing on interview prep and building self-confidence amongst prisoners.
By meeting with the women weekly we realised we could help them realise their potential and reduce the risk of them reoffending.
Around the same time, I was invited to join The Employers Forum for Reducing Re-offending (EFRR). This forum was invaluable as we journeyed to understand the world of prisons and probation, with Chair James Timpson – CEO of Timpson Group – inviting us along to prison visits and supporting us in our effort to consider employing people directly from prison.
We began to understand concepts such as Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) – where, following a thorough risk assessment, those in the latter stages of their sentence are permitted to leave prison to attend a place of work and then return in the evening. ROTL is a great way for people to build a habit of working while offering an alternative to their old lifestyle.
Offering hope, one person at a time
One of our first ROTL placements in 2011 was a young woman whose children had been taken into care whilst she was in prison. She was determined to build a better life upon release and have the ability to look after her children again. The team were very supportive; the team leader even called me to let me know how much they wished to provide her with a permanent job upon release. But it was more than just employment. The offer of a job gave her a sense of belonging within a team. It gave her hope, boosted her confidence and self-esteem and motivated her to work towards a different future. Different to the one she thought she was destined for when she was first sentenced to prison.
Our Fresh Start programme was developed with a key principle to support one person at a time. This is essential as there will be moments when other influences do get in their way, but by working quickly with the support teams we can help a prison leaver back on track. This is why the principle of ‘one person at a time’ is so important.
We have now supported over 4,500 people and we now work with over 30 different prisons.
It is critical we find ways to engage, offer hope and employ more of our prison leavers for many reasons:
- Hearing their stories, you realise young people are often failed in lots of ways and this is our chance to provide them with hope and skills for a different future – if we don’t do this, who will?
- In our experience prison leavers feel indebted to our support team and want to prove we were right to take a chance on them. We have several examples of prison leavers developing their own businesses and careers.
- There are talented people within prison seeking a different future – with our support we can offer that future in our organisations.
- By offering employment we reduce the cycle of re-offending thus making our communities safer.
Giving back to the community
Our Fresh Start programme is a key part of our Diversity and Inclusion Plan and not only provides a pipeline to help us fill vacancies, but it is also a way for us to give back to the local communities in which our customers and teams work and live. It is also extremely motivational for our teams who get involved. A real testimony to this programme is the passion developed by our teams when they do get the opportunity to become involved – they see the value to the business and the individual and become inspired to help more people.
I am currently the Chair of the EFFRR group, and we work very closely with the New Futures Network team to support businesses that want to take a step forward and get involved.
New Futures Network is a specialist part of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service that brokers partnerships between prisons and employers. To get in touch please visit New Futures Network and register your interest.
The Government is planning to recruit at least 1,000 ex-offenders who have fully turned their back on crime into the Civil Service by the end of 2023. To read more click here.