Blue Sky’s Year – 2014

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It’s been quite a year. Thank you to everyone who has offered us jobs for ex-offenders, given us funding, taken on our people permanently and supported us in any way. Without your help we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we have.

Click on the picture below to check out some of our highlights of 2014…

2014 snapshot

Bring on 2015!

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A visit from the Secretary of State for Justice…

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We were delighted to be asked by the MP for Ealing Central and Acton Angie Bray to take a lead role in an event which would demonstrate the invaluable work being carried out in her constituency through the incredibly successful partnership between Blue Sky and Amey. On 3rd December Blue Sky and other representatives from the voluntary, private and public sectors in Ealing welcomed Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Justice, to Acton Town Hall. This special event’s focus was all about re-offending and how organisations can work together to reduce the likelihood of it happening.

Read more…


Graying, Bray, BSDR employees


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Carwyn’s blog – A sewing machine for Christmas…

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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.

Gilly Yarrow dress

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.

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Army —> Prison —> support from Blue Sky & Amey

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ameyAfter 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 him. 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.

Wayne Smith_cropped2In 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”

Wayne Smith_cropped3

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A concert in aid of Blue Sky

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On Thursday 20th November 2014 Dr Morton’s Trust put on a concert at St Sepulchre Without Newgate Church in London in aid of Blue Sky. Guests were treated to a performance from the London Philharmonic Orchestra String Quartet playing music by Haydn, Beethoven and the world premiere of a piece by Heath.

How did this all come about? Karen Morton recently set up a new medical business, Dr Morton’s – the medical helpline©and established a Trust in order to support charitable causes. She decided to support Blue Sky because her eldest son went through a difficult period in his life between the ages of 14 and 20 spending time in prison. She believes that if he had not had the benefit of loving parents to help and encourage him then his life may have turned out very differently; instead, he’s just started a law degree at Cambridge University.

Karen is well aware that there are many people within the criminal justice system who perhaps don’t have this support and who  need help to turn their lives around – the kind of practical support that Blue Sky provides every day through employment, training, housing, mentoring and career planning…

Many thanks from all at Blue Sky to Karen, those at Dr Morton’s Trust and all the guests who attended the concert on Thursday night. You’re certainly helping us to tackle re-offending and its high cost to society.

Dr Karen Morton pictured alongside our Head of Fundraising Carwyn

Dr Mortons concert

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Ex-offenders in The City’s kitchens

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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.

Princess at workSeven 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”

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Young People supporting Blue Sky

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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.

The Challenge

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Carwyn’s blog – ‘A good sweat’

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Carwyn with Julie and Cristina from RAPtLast week we were delighted to welcome Cristina Fernandez and Julie Muir from the Recovery Support Team of prison drug and alcohol charity RAPt, our new merger partners. It was the first of many encounters between the organisations over the coming months as we learn more about each other’s services, and explore exciting new possibilities for working together to support those trapped in the cycle of addiction, crime and prison.

Following an introduction to staff at our HQ in Denham, it was time to set off to see two very contrasting sides of Blue Sky’s work. First stop was Farm Wood in Wooburn, Bucks, where Blue Sky has been contracted by the local parish council to clear woodland to help improve the habitat for wildlife – here our Teams Director Steve Finn was leading by example a group of 4 ex-offender employees, lopping branches and clearing brush. Then we visited our textiles workshop A Stitch in Time at HMP/YOI Bronzefield, a women’s high-security prison, which produces fashion items for high-profile clients such as Anya Hindmarch as well as haute couture garments for fashion shows. From chain-saw to chain-stitch – opposite ends of the Blue Sky spectrum but having in common the offer of engaging, rewarding work to help prevent re-offending.

Throughout the visit as we talked it was clear how much Blue Sky and RAPt can do together in the future, but also how much common ground there already is between the two organisations. It turned out that one of the team at work in Farm Wood was himself a RAPt ‘graduate’, Israel, who sang the praises of the RAPt programme, explaining how self-discovery and honesty were at its heart. Israel also talked about his love of work at Blue Sky, about the honesty of labour. As a former drug addict, he knew all about what a ‘bad sweat’ was. Clearing a wood for Blue Sky, Israel was working up a ‘good sweat’. From bad sweat to good sweat – not a bad way to describe the journey of hope and purpose that RAPt and Blue Sky can create from in-prison rehabilitation through the gate to a proper job in the community.

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Merging with RAPt to form offender rehabilitation powerhouse

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RAPt                   Blue Sky Logo USE

RAPt (the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust) and Blue Sky today announced that they have merged, forming a union to tackle the interconnected problems of addiction, crime and re-offending. Through the merger, RAPt becomes the sole company member of Blue Sky, which will remain a separate legal entity. The merger will see the two charities grow the number of employment opportunities they create for ex-offenders and people in recovery from addiction.

RAPt works with people with drug and alcohol dependence so they can lead positive lives free from addiction and crime. The charity runs rehabilitation programmes in 25 prisons in England and, with additional community-based recovery support services, RAPt reaches over 20,000 people every year.  

Blue Sky was founded in 2005 with the sole aim of creating jobs for people coming out of jail. Since then it has employed and helped to resettle over 1,000 ex-offenders – roughly the population of a large prison – and the re-offending rate of Blue Sky employees is just 15%, a quarter of the national average. 

By merging, the two organisations add considerable value to their separate interventions and strengthen the services available to those trapped in the cycle of addiction, crime and prison.   Their programmes don’t just transform individual lives, families and communities but also save huge amounts of tax-payers’ money: 

  • Re-offending costs the UK £13 billion each year.
  • England and Wales release 90,000 prisoners per annum: 60% re-offend within two years, the second highest re-offending rate in Europe.
  • Having a job reduces the probability of re-offending by up to 50% yet it is eight times more difficult for someone with a criminal record to get a job than for someone without.
  • 64% of prisoners report having used drugs in the four weeks before custody, and re-offending is highest amongst released prisoners with untreated drug or alcohol problems.

Mike Trace, RAPt CEO, says “Three factors informed this ground-breaking merger.  First, drug and alcohol abuse is the greatest driver of crime in the UK.  Second, having a stable job reduces the probability of re-offending by up to 50%.  Finally, the best rehabilitation takes place both sides of the prison gate: Blue Sky and RAPt each have highly-targeted and evidence-based models for helping offenders and, by working together, we are creating something wholly unique that can generate even stronger results.”

Mick May, Blue Sky CEO, says “Our vision is to create a pathway of hope and purpose for offenders so they can move away from a life in and out of custody to a fulfilling life in the community.  This merger is driven by strategic thinking rather than financial need – a rare occurrence in the social sector – and will produce a unique offering: no other organisation offers this continuum of support, from in-prison care for addicts, to resettlement support through the prison gate and into a proper paid job with a proper company on the outside.”

Mick (a former City trader) set up Blue Sky after meeting Steve Finn (a former bank robber) who told him how difficult it was to find a job with a criminal record.  With Steve (now a senior manager at Blue Sky) as his first recruit, Mick set off on a journey that has seen Blue Sky grow to create jobs for ex-offenders in both public and private sectors, including companies such as Virgin Active, River Island, Nabarro and Deloitte.  Blue Sky has won numerous awards including a UK Social Enterprise Award in 2013, and was also No. 10’s Social Action Partner in 2011 where David Cameron quipped: “it’s the only company in the country where you need a criminal record to work there”.

With the merger as his latest achievement Mick is taking the opportunity to step down as CEO from Blue Sky with effect from Christmas 2014.   In 2013 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. Both Blue Sky and RAPt will retain the benefits of his experience, expertise and many friendships on a non-executive basis. He will also pursue other charitable activities.

 group pic

RAPt CEO, Mick Trace (c), with Blue Sky Founders Steve Finn and Mick May

If you have any queries about the merger please complete a Contact Form and we will respond as soon as possible.

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