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The Hounslow Horse

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17
Apr

 

Our grounds maintenance team in Hounslow had something other than rubbish, dog mess and stinging nettles to contend with today.

Hounslow horse

At least he’s cheaper to maintain than a lawnmower and doesn’t give any back chat!

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What a year!

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in News.

4
Apr

As we enter 2014/15 please find our key figures for the last financial year before the counters go back to 0 again:

  • We have employed 133 ex-offenders, 43 of whom were taken on in March (hence the recruitment mayhem witnessed here at the office in recent weeks!) due to new contracts.
  • These new starters take our total employed to date to 835 across the country.
  • 40 of our leavers have moved into full-time employment, most recently as a Solar Panel Fitter in Gloucester, an Assistant Site Manager in Slough and a Graffiti Removal Operative in west London.
  • With 13 housing loans having been issued 50% of our employees in housing need have had their situation improved. The majority of the remaining 50% are still employed with us and will receive support throughout their contracts.

In addition, we have started operating in a number of new areas which has enabled us to employ many more ex-offenders:

Southwark, Wandsworth, Reigate, Gloucester, Kingston, Richmond, Newbury, Bromley, Rushmoor, Watford, East Village, Dagenham, Croydon.

Well done everyone, bring on the next year!

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Annie’s blog – getting a job despite the record

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in Annie's blog, Blog, News.

31
Mar

If you didn’t see Annie’s first blog back in February then have a quick read of it here.

I started a job last week (eeekk! I know) but they’re not as welcoming or kind as you guys of course! I’m an e-business Customer Service Officer – I handle social media and field calls about workshops and grants. It’s a brand new role so everyone has been finding their feet but I just thought I’d drop you all a few lines to update you all.

My Advisor from The Work Programme (Claire) called and asked me to go for an informal chat with a prospective employer. The company had unsuccessfully advertised the position many times and Claire felt I had all the necessary skills. I felt really honoured to be thought of and was surprised because if I happened to be successful we’d end up being colleagues – this lady really was open-mined!

I met the Director (Marie) who walked me through the Job Description and asked me detailed questions to see if I was appropriate for the role. At the end of the chat, she asked me to fill in the application form and return on Monday for a formal interview with two of the other Directors. Claire sat with me and as I filled in the criminal record part I just looked over to her. I genuinely felt defeated, this job required a CRB. Claire explained that she had already told Marie and I wasn’t to worry – she was fantastic, she boosted my confidence and offered me support when I felt like giving up. She said: “The only person who isn’t sure you can do this, my little cocker sparrow, is you.” I completed everything and as I left I grabbed the latest company mag so I’d be up-to-date for the interview and spent the weekend learning the relevant bits ready for Monday.

On Monday I arrived early and was shaking and getting really nervous about THE question. Then Claire told me that Marie believed that I should be able to pass the interview on merit so wouldn’t be telling the interviewers about my record. Well, I’d gone 21 months in jail without being nearly tempted but at that moment I could have kissed Marie to death! I was over the moon to know that if I stuffed the interview up it was purely because of my lack of knowledge not because of “CRIMINAL” being written on my forehead.

The interview went well and within three hours I had the call to say that I had the job. I jumped up and down on the spot and fought the urge to squeal down the phone, like those ‘far-too-excited girls’ when they win a radio competition! I couldn’t get hold of my Probation Officer (sorry Offender Manager – I dislike that title though) so I left a voicemail, which was evidently not picked up. Four days into my job, I received a Licence Warning for failing to inform them and seek their authorisation for starting work. My expletives are unrepeatable.

I phoned her to talk about it and even when I explained about the voicemail she didn’t back down: “It would change things if it could be verified… I’d like to contact them to double check you have disclosed“. What was it Percy Shelley called it during the French Revolution? Passive Resistance? Well this woman would even make him feel positively fuming. Shan’t let them ruin my good news though – Annie has a job, I pay taxes!

I’ve done two weeks now and all is going well. Ironically, my team sit in front of the anti-crime team. They spend a lot of time being derogatory about ex-offenders so I’ve had to learn that not every battle is mine. One of the team members asked me about Blue Sky when I was talking to my colleague about my work history and said: “They deserve medals working with people like that. Why should they get help when normal people don’t” – Classy.

My response? “If that is your attitude, why do you work with ex-offenders? Surely, you should know by now not everything is cut and dry? Everybody deserves a chance in life regardless of their past. Besides, if they didn’t exist you wouldn’t have a job [stunned silence]“. I get really defensive and am a bit paranoid but at the same time if they knew I’d love to be able to show we’re not a stereotype.

Some names have been changed.

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Cleaning up Hounslow

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28
Mar

 

Back in January we reported that the Glebelands area of Hounslow had experienced a dramatic fall in crime since Blue Sky started maintaining Feltham Arena.  Earlier this week Malcolm and the Hounslow team were joined by Police Community Liaison Officer Anne Sanders and other representatives from the Feltham Ward Metropolitan Police to see the good work being carried out. Hounslow Police Department then tweeted these pictures saying how the area was now “a clean and safe place to come”.

You can read a full article by ‘Get West London’ here.

Feltham1 Feltham2

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Cost of re-offending

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21
Mar

 

London’s Evening Standard has reported that re-offending in the UK costs the nation the same as putting on the Olympics every year.

Up to £13 billion a year is wasted on ex-prisoners committing further crimes. So, why not support an organisation that offers ex-offenders employment and turns them into tax-payers… just a thought.

As one of our employees once said: “Absolutely no one in their right mind would want an offender to commit another crime”

 

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Goodbye Siobhain

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14
Mar

 

We are sadly saying goodbye to Siobhain who has been a resident of the Colne Valley Park Centre for over 9 years (not continuously, she does go home!). She started at Groundwork Thames Valley, our parent company, before moving her desk from one end of the building to the other in 2011 after being poached by Blue Sky.

Until 5pm today she is the Company Secretary for both Blue Sky and Blue Sky Inside and also PA to our CEO, Mick May. She has been integral to getting the ‘Friends of Blue Sky’ programme off the ground and continuing to manage its development. In her typically meticulous way she has organised each Friends event down to the last canapé to ensure they run smoothly and, unsurprisingly, they all have to date.

Earlier today the team all went out into the sunshine to hear some words from Mick and Steve Finn and then Siobhain was presented with some flowers and a cherry tree for her garden. She starts on Monday at the London Borough of Hillingdon as Senior Directorate Support Officer to the Director of Adult Services and we all wish her the very best of luck.

siobhain_web            siobhain_web2

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Hitting another milestone

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13
Mar

We have employed our 800th employee!

Yes, that’s right, we have created employment opportunities for over 800 ex-offenders in the past 8 years. From starting with one man and a van carrying out grounds maintenance work in Slough we are now employing over 100 ex-offenders a year all around London, the south east, the south west and up in Manchester. They continue to carry out grounds maintenance services but they also fulfil waste management, catering, laundry, beach cleaning and distribution contracts.

We now have 17 different contracts in operation and our 800th employee started in one of our newest London teams in Southwark. He was referred by A4e in Brixton via the Work Programme and is currently busy carrying out grounds maintenance work in the borough’s cemeteries.

These are just a few of our 800 employees to date who have moved into full-time employment after completing their contracts with Blue Sky:

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Jo’s story – housing and a job on release

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1
Mar

Down in Cornwall Jo was waitressing work to get by and support her family. Her issue was that the work was seasonal so for large chunks of the year she was really struggling for money. It was particularly hard over winter when her 3 kids were on Christmas holidays and expecting presents. To make matters worse, Jo was taking valium everyday to try and deal with the loss of both her parents, the breakdown of her marriage and losing her house.

Jo started out by committing petty thefts each week to sell items for money.  One day, on seeing someone leaving the bank with a bag of money, she made the split decision to commit a robbery. It was unsuccessful and she was quickly identified by witnesses to the police. Jo was handed a 32-month sentence for attempted robbery and prior to that she had only spent 33 days in prison. jo, mower

Jo spotted the Blue Sky workshop in Bronzefield prison and applied for a role because she had done textiles at school. During her interview she informed Allison, the Programme Manager, that she was desperate to try and get straight into work on release. Keen to work outside, Jo was an ideal candidate to move into a Blue Sky grounds maintenance team and 3 months prior to release she started with us on ROTL (release on temporary licence) twice a week. SAM_7658

Despite having no grounds maintenance experience Jo got stuck in straight away learning how to use all the relevant equipment and the ride-on mower. As her release date was approaching she told Dave, our Resettlement Officer, that she wanted to relocate so she could have a fresh start, continue working for Blue Sky and have easier access to her children. Dave sourced her a room in Slough and accessed our Matched Grant Scheme (Jo contributed nearly 30% of the £440 using money saved from her prison wages) and Housing Loan Fund to pay the deposit, administration fee and first month’s rent. Jo has been repaying the £600 drawn down from the Housing Fund in weekly instalments since her full-time 6-month contract with us started in March.

“It’s great getting into a good working routine, having some responsibilities and being a role model to my children. I can be financially independent and can finally see a positive future. I feel like I am part of society again and I’d definitely like to mentor other women coming out of prison so they feel supported like I was”

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Annie’s blog – my job interviews as an ex-offender

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in Annie's blog, Blog.

28
Feb

Annie worked with us twice a week at Denham for 3 months whilst on ROTL from prison (release on temporary licence – day release). When she was released she headed north to stay with her family and, as expected, has found it difficult to secure a full-time job:

Interview 1

Well, I had my first ‘post-prison’ job interview today for a sales job – I thought it was going reasonably well until the panel. Jiminy Cricket! They started talking about concerns about my sales technique (understandable – I don’t like cold-callers myself!) but that with training they were happy I would excel. All good stuff but then, of course, THE question happened. Yikes! Looking back, I wish I had a camera because the man at the end practically did the ‘cartoon eyes-out-of-socket look’! The whole atmosphere went from positive to ‘set me on fire with a single look’.

We weren’t aware of your conviction, but it’s nice that you’ve been forth-coming…

I turned it around a little bit by mentioning my ROTLs with Blue Sky, explaining the process and the work I did with you all – I even went to offer them one of the references Steve had written for me but was told: “Oh that won’t be necessary“. The woman even hesitated when I offered my hand at the end of the interview – needless to say I didn’t get the job.

C’est La Vie, we all knew it would be a challenge and it’s something I just have to persevere with.  At the end of the day, at least they didn’t lynch me and it was interview practice. The more people ask about my record the easier it will be to disclose it and keep the focus on my positive attributes!

Interview 2

I was offered an interview for my old Bar Supervisor job and I thought it would go well but it really, really didn’t. The location had a lot of sentimental memories attached to it and I think that caught me on the back foot to begin with. There were 2 people interviewing me and the set up was quite intimidating. We walked into a poorly lit room with a conference table. Their side of the table had every chair for the individual place settings, whereas mine just had the single chair… I wondered where they’d moved the rest of the row. There was a glass of water in front of my place which I remember thinking was a nice touch, even with the water marks.

John did the majority of the talking, Steph just nodded and rolled her eyes (a lot). I’m not sure how much was at me or at the boredom of sitting through yet another interview. I was not getting good vibes from her, I almost wanted to lean forward and say: “Keepin’ you up, love?”. Almost!

“You have a bit of a gap in employment between 2012-2013. Why is this?”

I literally went hot, stumbled over my words because I had assumed they would have been brought up to speed by their HR Department. Clearly not.

“I think at this juncture its best that I’m honest. Your HR Department is aware that I went to prison”

“Well, yes honesty would be best and you know we value that highly. What was the offence?”

Erm… well I’m sure you can understand that it can be difficult to discuss but…” I then gave the particulars as necessary and, as per normal, watched them go pale. They really did not know. I could feel myself getting emotional so took a sip of water before asking if there was anything else they needed to know about that. I was so tongue-tied I didn’t even mention my ROTLs. I fell over my words and only managed to say that I felt prison had been educational and I find it much easier to talk to people from all walks of life now. Well, this is actually a lie. I now find it easier to talk to others with a criminal record or an open-mind, I find it incredibly difficult to talk to everyone now – a skill I used to pride myself on.

John smiled which was reassuring and asked what I knew about the company – with a chuckle, because he knew I’d completed their training programmes. I reeled off a brilliant (if I do say so myself!) synopsis of the firm, their ethos, history and successes. Steph actually said that she didn’t even know some of the stuff I’d said! That did help me find my feet again. They went on to explain the way the business was moving forward but I couldn’t help but feel I wouldn’t be a part of it. Particularly when they said: “The role you are actually being interviewed for has been given…but that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be opportunities in the future… There will be a round of second interviews next week and if you have passed this stage we will phone in the next few days…”

I haven’t heard anything.

I am disappointed. I tried to turn things around when they asked if I had any questions. I asked about different roles in the company and if they had other positions in different areas as I’m happy to travel. To that they responded with: “We only let our most experienced, professional and efficient staff do that.” NICE! The teenager in me felt like railing about the member of staff in their reception area chewing gum, the water marks on my glass and the nose-stud in my interviewer’s nose (against food hygiene) but I bit my tongue and smiled.

Perhaps it was time that I moved on anyway – exes are exes for a reason, regardless of whether they’re a relationship or a job. Well, that’s what I told myself as we shook hands and I got to my car. I then sobbed for half an hour. I don’t expect special treatment. I know people will judge me on my criminal record but I would like to at least have my experience and qualifications acknowledged. Let’s be honest all of that stings but, in reality, I just really wanted a job.

What next?

I’ll keep trying and keep interviewing whenever I’m given the chance. That’s all I can do really because at the end of the day I want to work and make a life for myself with prison firmly in the past.

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Our CEO in the FT

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in Blog, News.

26
Feb

 

Mick May was recently interviewed by the Financial Times about the merits of ‘giving prisoners a break’. He says that more companies should employ ex-prisoners in their supply chains because “ex-offenders can be significantly more loyal to their company than other employees”, among other reasons.

Read the full article here.

 

 

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