On Thursday 18th June the Park Plaza Westminster was home to the 16th annual Charity Awards gala dinner. Steve Finn and Anna Gordon were there to represent Blue Sky having been shortlisted two months ago in the ‘Social Care & Welfare’ category.
Hosted by (the very amusing) Will Greenwood MBE the night saw 12 awards given out to charities in categories like ‘Children & Youth’, ‘Disability’ and ‘Environment & Conservation’ among others. It culminated in the ‘Outstanding Achievement’ nod going to WaterAid’s CEO Barbara Frost and finally Lumos winning the ‘Overall Award’. It was amazing to hear about all the inspiring work that is being carried out in this sector.
The tenth award of the night was for ‘Social Care & Welfare’ and Blue Sky were up against two wonderful charities: Karma Nirvana who support victims of forced marriage and honour-based abuse and also The Silver Line Helpline who strive to tackle loneliness among older people. Very proud and pleased (albeit surprised) to win Steve and Anna went up to collect the award from Dorothy Dalton, the editor of Governance Magazine, and the actor and comedian Kerry Godliman.
A huge thank you to Civil Society Media and CAF and finally to all the judges on the Charity Awards panel who chose to honour a very grateful Blue Sky.
The winners of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) Employability Awards 2015, sponsored by Seetec, were announced yesterday at a special ceremony in London hosted by Baroness Stedman-Scott, with guest speaker, the Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, Minister for Employment. The award judges were Ed Cox, Director of IPPR North; Elisabeth Paulson, Investment Director, Impetus PEF; and John Michalski, Commercial Director, Department for Work and Pensions.
Blue Sky’s Founder and now Patron Mick May received a Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by Serco. Mick said:
“I am extremely grateful to Serco and to Seetec for this award. It is a fitting tribute to the work of Blue Sky over the last 10 years, a relatively small social enterprise that has truly punched above its weight, having employed over 1,000 ex-offenders, a large prison’s worth. By giving ex-offenders the opportunity to work and pay tax, and by reducing re-offending and its huge cost, Blue Sky has generated significant economic and social benefit. Blue Sky has huge ambition to extend this impact and to reach more and more ex-offenders over the next 10 years. As I step down from the organisation, I truly hope it receives the funding, investment and partners it deserves to realise this ambition.”
It is always immensely satisfying for Blue Sky to receive positive feedback about the hard work that our employees carry out. Today we received a letter about Sharon and Graeme who are employed by Blue Sky on our contract with Hillingdon Borough Council carrying out bulky waste collection.
Dear Blue Sky
I would like to bring to your attention the outstanding work being undertaken by two of your staff, Sharon and Graeme. For a number of years we have suffered with an ongoing fly tipping and rubbish problem. Sharon and Graeme however have provided us with an outstanding service, clearing the substantial rubbish on a regular basis and keeping our area clean and hazard free. This is giving the residents a renewed sense of pride in our community which we are slowly building on. We would like you to relay our sincere appreciation and gratitude to them for all they do for us.
P. Grittini, Heritage and Barchester Close Residents Association
Our new MD Kate Markey and I visit Blue Sky Inside’s workshop at HMP High Down. The workshop employs prisoners to make wooden puzzle games called ‘Bridget’ for Et Games. We also run a small textiles workshop at the prison making canvas bags in which the games are sold.
In the prison visitors’ waiting room, there is on a plaque on the wall with a quote from Winston Churchill. “The mark and measure of a nation’s treatment of criminals … is characterised by tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if only you can find it in the heart of every person”.
We meet Gary, the workshop’s prison-based instructor, who works with Allison, Blue Sky Inside’s Programme Manager, to train, employ and support the men at HMP Highdown. Gary is an ex-film set designer whose last assignment before retiring to a quieter life (in prison) was working on the James Bond film Sky Fall – “I’ve gone from Her Majesty’s Secret Service to Her Majesty’s Establishment”, he quips. Spending time with Gary, it’s clear to see his passion and dedication, the very embodiment of Churchill’s dictum. “My job,” he explains, “is basically to teach guys woodwork. Some have not done any woodwork at all. So I start with the very basics but what I love is when they get the hang of it and start making things. Then they start turning up early for the workshop sessions and can’t wait to be let in. Then I know they’ve got the bug…” Churchill I’m sure would say at this point that Gary has found the treasure within.
Once the men in the workshop have achieved their basic woodwork qualifications, Gary gets them making all sorts of things: chess pieces, benches, bird feeders, children’s chairs. All hand-made, carefully crafted, lovingly dove-tailed and planed. And for Blue Sky Inside they make the Bridget puzzle game. It involves a complex process of cutting up blocks, sanding and staining them dark or blonde. Chief operator of the process is Colin*, a prisoner coming to the end of a 22-year sentence. Chatting to Colin about his impending release (he’ll be moving to a resettlement prison soon, from where he hopes to get in touch with Blue Sky about a job in the community) he’s full of curiosity, and perhaps a little trepidation. He has lots of touching questions about life on the outside, things he’s read about but not yet experienced. For example, how do you go about ‘googling’ something? And why do people seem to need an iphone and an ipad?
Given his impending departure, Colin has taken the trouble to handwrite on sheets of A4 a manual on how to make the Bridget game, a step-by-step guide for his successor. I suspect that Colin could do with an equally-detailed guide for the puzzles and challenges of modern life, having been locked away for so long. Blue Sky will do what we can to help him on his way.
*Not his real name
Yvonne Williams – Blue Sky Inside’s Community Worker
Back in 2007 Yvonne applied to our merger partner RAPt’s apprenticeship scheme. She was successful and throughout the six months she was trained in facilitating group work and coping with difficult situations amongst many other things. On graduating the scheme she became a Drug and Alcohol Worker. Just two years later she was promoted to Senior Drug and Alcohol Worker when she was tasked with managing a team of four. Yvonne and her team worked in HMP Downview supporting the prisoners engaging on a RAPt treatment programme.
At the end of 2014 Yvonne saw the advert for the Blue Sky Inside position on RAPt’s intranet and the role interested her immediately. She didn’t know that some of the team at RAPt had already planned to recommend her for the position. She was clearly highly suitable for the role and Yvonne has now been Blue Sky Inside’s Community Worker since March 2015. Before joining us she had previously been promoted again to manage RAPt’s Changes programme in Tower Hamlets and there was scope for this position to be part-time so Yvonne spends the remaining two days of the week working for Blue Sky Inside.
As Blue Sky Inside’s Community Worker Yvonne visits the women in our ‘Stitch in Time’ textiles workshop in HMP Bronzefield prior to their release. She uses the time she has to get to know the women individually, find out about their needs and aspirations and build a strong rapport. When a lady is released Yvonne either meets her at the prison gate or organises a meeting with her one or two days later depending on their needs and what they request.
Once in the community Yvonne has regular contact with the women and supports them with everything from finding employment to independent living and managing finances. For example, Emma* was released recently and expressed an interest in setting up her own textiles business from home. Yvonne helped her with some research and found some free conferences targeting small business in the textiles industry. Yvonne encouraged Emma to make some enquiries and sat with her whilst she was on the phone. Emma got a space in one of the conferences and coupled with her matched grant from Blue Sky Inside to purchase two sewing machines she is well on her to starting her own enterprise from home.
“I love having this opportunity to empower these ladies from the Stitch workshop to have a better life on release from prison. I want to help them see the light at the end of the tunnel”
– Yvonne, pictured above in May 2015
*not her real name
We are pleased and very proud to announce that Blue Sky has been shortlisted for a Charity Award 2015.
We are up for the ‘Social Care & Welfare’ award along with two other brilliant charities: Karma Nirvana and The Silver Line Helpline. The whole team here are over the moon to see our work being recognised on this scale and we look forward to the gala dinner next month.
“For 16 years The Charity Awards have been identifying and celebrating the fantastic work that UK charities do, and the rigorous judging process ensures that only the very best-run charities make it through”
Tania Mason, group editor at Civil Society Media which organises The Charity Awards
“These awards show charities at their very best, working to support people in communities around the country in myriad different ways at a time of continuing economic uncertainty. Celebrating that success is a massively important part of maintaining and building the culture of generosity in Britain of which we should be so proud” John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation
Kate Markey is Blue Sky’s new Managing Director, starting her role on 20th April 2015. Kate has a long career in social enterprise. She was previously Deputy Chief Executive of the social enterprise support agency CAN, and Managing Director of its social finance intermediary, CAN Invest. She is also a former Editor of The Big Issue in the North, part of The Big Life Group. Kate also sits on the Advisory Council of Big Society Capital and is a Trustee of the national advocacy charity, VoiceAbility.
She says: “I am thrilled to be joining Blue Sky at such an important time in its journey. The social enterprise has achieved much in creating real jobs for people working hard to turn their lives around.”
Blue Sky creates jobs for ex-offenders in a range of industry sectors including grounds maintenance, waste management, distribution, catering and laundry, and works across London, Thames Valley and the South East. The social enterprise recently employed its 1,000th ex-offender on the back of a significant increase in its commercial contracts from clients such as Veolia and Amey. And in October 2014, Blue Sky announced its merger with the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt) to form a union that tackles the interconnected problems of addiction, crime and re-offending.
Kate adds: “Blue Sky has a compelling offer to ex-offenders, to communities and to employers. I look forward to working with the team, board and RAPt to build Blue Sky’s growth and impact.”
Kate replaces Mick May who founded Blue Sky 10 years ago. In 2013 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. Blue Sky and RAPt retain the benefits of his experience, expertise and many friendships on a non-executive basis as he becomes a Patron. He is also pursuing other charitable activities.
Mick says: “I step down from Blue Sky full of pride and with many fond memories. It’s hard to remember now, but my original idea of a company where you had to have a criminal record to work there was thought by many to be eccentric at best. But now it’s a reality that has transformed the lives of thousands .That was only possible because of an extraordinary bunch of colleagues. And now I leave Blue Sky in extremely capable hands – with a new partner, a new leader and an existing team whom I am sure together will blaze a trail to the future as Blue Sky reaches new heights.”
David Bernstein, Chair of Blue Sky says: “I am delighted to have succeeded Ron Sheldon as Chairman of Blue Sky at this exciting time. We are very pleased to have Kate Markey leading the organisation into the next phase of its development. Consolidating Mick May’s remarkable achievements and strengthening the links with RAPt, will allow us to make a reality our vision of creating a continuum of support, from in-prison care for addicts, to resettlement support through the prison gate and into a proper paid job with on the outside.”
I first went to prison when I was 16 years old – I ended up in Feltham Young Offenders Institute for committing a string of offences. I was then in and out of prison for more than ten years, I totally wasted my teens and my twenties and caused a lot of misery.
A couple of years ago I was in Coldingley prison serving a three and a half year sentence for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. Plus, I was using a lot of drugs myself. I was completely at rock bottom and I knew I needed to change – for my three sons as much as for me. I knew the first thing I needed to do was to get clean so I started the 12-step RAPt programme and I am pleased to say I have been drugs-free for over four years now.
When I was released from prison (for the last time ever) I heard about Blue Sky and applied for a job as I saw they had a contract near to my house. I worked in the Hillingdon team doing grounds work and I loved it, although it was definitely hard work. Being at Blue Sky helped me become more confident, make it easier to integrate back into society and support my growing family (I’ve got a daughter on the way!). I worked there for four months and then the opportunity came up for a permanent position helping disadvantaged young people and I knew I had to take it.
I have been a Support Worker in a children’s home in North London for six months now. I carry out key work sessions with young people aged between 15-21 years old – some are offenders, some just have no family. I help them prepare for independent living and advise them on anything from budgeting and job searching to hygiene and personal/sexual health. Drawing on my own life experiences definitely helps me to support these kids – I don’t want any of them to be a waster for more than a decade of their lives like I was.