Aged 23 and with 3 young children to support Shanitta was arrested for a drugs offence and handed a prison sentence. She appreciates that she was fortunate to have a loving family who could take care of her kids while she was inside.
Shanitta had heard about Blue Sky from a friend years ago and when she was ultimately released from prison she remembered the name and got in touch. She had various jobs before prison but as a single parent she says she found it hard to juggle children and work. She also didn’t have any experience at all in the type of work that Blue Sky offers but she was so desperate to secure a job after prison that she didn’t mind. After an interview Shanitta was taken on to work in the Hillingdon grounds maintenance team and she started off on a large flower planting contract.
After completing her contract with Blue Sky Shanitta was accepted onto a bus driving course. On passing the training she was offered full-time employment doing routes around Hounslow. To top it off the job offer came on her birthday! She recently said:
“When I was convicted I thought to myself ‘that’s it, my life is over, I’ll never get a job’. But, Blue Sky welcomed me with open arms and were even really supportive about me being able to work around my kids.
I figured that if I can get stuck in to a job I have never tried before then the sky’s the limit. That’s why I had the confidence to try new things that I wouldn’t have dared to before and I realised that I do have options open to me.
I was always worried about being judged but I felt comfortable at Blue Sky and I found that they were even more helpful and supportive than I could have imagined”
We were delighted to be able to welcome the High Sheriff of Berkshire, Chris Khoo, and his wife Naomi, who had requested to come along and meet one of our teams working in ‘his’ county. This was even more enjoyable as one of our newest clients, the internationally renowned Johnson & Johnson, were kind enough to host the visit at their superb facilities near Wokingham.
As an independent non-political Royal appointment for a single year some of the duties of a High Sheriff date back to Saxon times, but one aspect that remains to this day is that they still have a responsibility to the Crown for the maintenance of law and order. High Sheriffs actively lend support and encouragement to crime prevention agencies and to the voluntary sector. In recent years High Sheriffs in many parts of England and Wales have been particularly active in encouraging crime reduction initiatives, especially amongst young people. We hope Blue Sky managed to demonstrate how we work hard to help reduce re-offending in Berkshire.
Johnson & Johnson may be a huge multinational organisation, but they are also keenly aware of how big companies are able to help local businesses, and are leading the way in a dedication to bring social enterprise and charities into their supply chain. Blue Sky were incredibly pleased to be offered the chance to take on the grounds maintenance at their Wokingham site, and the team working at the site are keenly aware that we need to keep the standards up at the very highest level. On the day, John, Wesley and Jade were introduced to Chris and his wife, and were able to tell them about the opportunity companies like J&J offer to help ex-offenders back into long term work.
Please take a moment to read Katie Allen’s excellent article in today’s Guardian:
Steve tells his story and Mick highlights the difference between what a job means to an ex-offender compared to some people he worked with previously in The City.
Last week I had the pleasure of welcoming Will Prochaska, Ben Houghton, Gail Jones and Philippa Harrison from RAPt (Blue Sky’s merger partner) to our Stitch in Time textiles workshop at HMP/YOI Bronzefield. As workshop manager Allison Enenche showed our guests what Stitch in Time produces (from bags for Anya Hindmarch to haute couture garments – see a picture of our latest item below), I chatted to one of the ladies who works there, Maureen.
Maureen asked me who the guests were. I explained that RAPt helps prisoners who are addicted to drink and drugs, and that Blue Sky was planning to work with RAPt to provide mentoring support for women when they leave the workshop. “Smart move,” said Maureen. “A lot of women are in here because of drink and drugs and it becomes a big problem again when they leave. I’m an addict myself…” Maureen talked openly about her troubles with drink, but she also explained how being in the workshop helped her condition. “With an addictive personality, you do everything to the max. It’s not just one biscuit it’s the whole pack. It’s the same when I work, it becomes all-consuming, but in a good way. I’m 100% focused and dedicated. It’s a funny thing, I think addicts make good workers”.
Maureen went on to talk about her granddaughter and how they often chat on the phone. They talk about Maureen’s work at Stitch in Time, the skills that she has learned, and all the things she can now sew and make. Time again at Blue Sky I hear about our ex-offender employees’ desire to be role models for their family – a heart-felt wish for shame about the past to be replaced by pride and hope for the future. Maureen smilingly tells me that, “inspired by Nana”, her granddaughter who’s “dead into fashion” has asked her mum for a special present this Christmas – a sewing machine. And when she gets out in the New Year, Maureen is going to teach her how to make her own clothes.
Maureen, be proud, your granddaughter wants to be like you.
The latest garment produced at Stitch in Time, a dress worn by Gill Yarrow, the Lord Mayor’s wife, at the Lord Mayor’s banquet.
After joining the British Army aged 17 Wayne served two tours in Northern Ireland as a trooper in the late 1980s. He saw some horrific incidents during that time involving some of his close friends and colleagues “that really affected” him, he said. On returning home he slowly adjusted back into civilian life even got married. However, it only lasted ten years as Wayne’s depression about the events during his time in the Northern Ireland conflict became too much for him to cope with. He says he just couldn’t think straight and had nightmares and the doctor diagnosed him with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
During the next decade Wayne worked in the drainage and tarmac industry but due to PTSD he says he couldn’t focus. Things got so bad that he fell into some serious financial difficulties which lead to him drinking in excess and becoming an alcoholic. He needed help but didn’t know how to get it and then one day in a drunken stupor Wayne decided to go to the local bookies and rob it.
In court Wayne admitted his guilt and the Judge gave him four years in prison. Wayne said “That was the beginning to my road to recovery. I had routine and structure in prison, bit like the army, it was regimental”. He enjoyed the gym, wasn’t drinking alcohol anymore and his mental health quickly started improving. He did so well in prison that in the last year of his sentence probation approached Amey to get him some work on day release on the contract Amey has with Hampshire County Council to manage and maintain the county’s roads.
Wayne was recently released and to ensure he received adequate resettlement support Amey suggested that Blue Sky employ him. After impressing us at his interview we took him on and he continues to work on the tarmacking contract with Amey. He says:
“Blue Sky took me on when I came out of prison and I needed support the most. Without them I would have slipped back into a world of depression. For years I didn’t like what I looked at in the mirror but with the support of Blue Sky I can see the best ‘me’ that me and my family are proud of. I have my self-respect back and I am looking forward to a happier future”
In April 2014 Princess was recruited by Blue Sky to work in the Sodexo Prestige team that runs the London kitchens of Nabarro, a leading UK law firm.
Princess had previous experience in the catering industry but had not been able to secure a permanent post anywhere in the recent past. As she explained “it’s very difficult to get a job when you have a criminal record. You know exactly what you are going to be asked for in interview”.
For Princess, who is mother of two children at secondary and primary school, the lack of a full-time job was a source of real anxiety and when she first came to us she seemed cautious about what a six month contract with Blue Sky would realistically change.
Princess started working as a kitchen porter at Nabarro and quickly showed that, given the opportunity, she could be a valuable member of the Sodexo team. Sodexo was so impressed that when its catering contract at Nabarro came to an end, it was keen to offer Princess another role – but this time not as agency staff but as a permanent employee.
In September Princess moved to work for Sodexo at the offices of Munich Re, a global insurance company. The kitchen is smaller than at Nabarro but that gives Princess more responsibility and the chance to get exposure to a whole range of activities including barista training which will enable her to work in the café there.
Seven months on from starting work with Blue Sky, Princess is much more optimistic about the future. She has a permanent post on better money (£8.55 vs £7.47 at Nabarro), feels well supported by Debbie (Sodexo Contract Manager) who understands the pressures of raising children and the flexibility that is sometimes required and by Gary (Head Chef) who is giving Princess the opportunity to develop her skills and build a career with Sodexo.
When talking about how her prospects have changed, Princess now can’t stop smiling. She is excited by the fact that as a permanent employee she will be eligible for paid holiday and to attend the Christmas party, things that many of us take for granted.
On Blue Sky Princess says: “It has been a fantastic company to work for. Everything was explained at the outset and Blue Sky has been as good as its word”
The Challenge is a national charity with a mission to connect and inspire young people to strengthen their communities. A couple of months ago Steve, Minta, Vilome and some others gave a talk to a group of teenagers from The Challenge about Blue Sky and how we work to help the local community. From that visit they went on to design a social action campaign and decided to fundraise for Blue Sky over a 3 week period as part of their “99 Challenge Showdown”.
As part of this NCS (National Citizens Service) programme 13 young people aged 16-17 years old from Hillingdon took part in the Harefield Hospital Charity fun run. They took the initiative to screen print our logo on some t-shirts so they could raise awareness about Blue Sky whilst volunteering their time to take part in something special. In addition, as part of the “99 Challenge Showdown” they ticked off 98 other courageous and fun activities from their checklist They did this around around Hillingdon to raise money for Blue Sky.
A huge thank you to The Challenge and the 13 young people who chose to support to Blue Sky – you have certainly helped to benefit your local community.