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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Our new film – “A Stitch in Time”

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Blue Sky Inside’s “Stitch in Time” workshop has been operating in a women’s high security prison for two years so we wanted to give some of our employees the platform to tell their stories. The film also showcases what the women can produce and achieve: from making cotton dustbags for Anya Hindmarch to tailored silk dresses for a fashion show.

The workshop continues to be a huge success and we hope you enjoy hearing from Andrea, Jo and Maria as well as Allison, our Programme Manager.

Many thanks to Annie Needham, Caz Stuart, Deborah Kidd, Justin Spray and Chao Liu for donating their time to make this film for us. Their support is greatly appreciated by everyone at Blue Sky.

dedication image

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Annie’s blog – life 9 months after release

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In my opinion, prison promotes some weird (and a little bit anti-social) behaviour! What habits do I still have from doing my ‘bird’?:

  • I still fall asleep ridiculously early, particularly if all the lights are out.
  • I still become tense when I hear keys jangling or people whistle near me.
  • I still change the bed every Tuesday.
  • I still forget to seal envelopes.
  • I forget I can arrange to meet people whenever I want to.
  • I like to sit in a place where I can see the whole room and not with my back to a crowd.
  • I still rush when I get showered and dressed.
  • My Samaritan hat is still surgically attached.
  • My immune system is amazing.
  • I still have to attend ‘rehabilitative courses’.

Number 5 is an interesting one. I’ve learnt that I quite like my own company. I get nervous in large crowds and that I don’t rush to make arrangements anymore. I’m not sure if this is because I don’t trust like I did before, or if I just don’t see the urgency in everything anymore. I love to see my friends and their little ones, but I’m more inclined to be at home – reading, cuddling up to Dylan (my 4 year old Labradoodle) or cooking. I would go so far as to say that I avoid making arrangements, but I don’t really know why. If someone contacts me I’ll agree to do stuff, but otherwise I can take it or leave it. I think I’m more reserved.

I find solace in the mundane. When I’m stressed I go and just wander around a supermarket, armed with nothing but a shopping trolley and sometimes a list (that I’ve inevitably forgotten). I can mooch for HOURS – it’s ludicrous really. Who needs to spend that amount of time looking at vegetables and different condiments? The whole top shelf in our fridge is various jars of pickles, chutneys and sauces… utter madness. I even have a preference to which supermarket I use at these times. It’s not for the prices it is for… the size! It isn’t a four floored monster of a supermarket, it’s all on one level. It does what it says on the recyclable tin. No promises, no excuses and it’s quiet, except on a weekend. At the weekend I avoid all shops like the plague. Who needs people coughing, spluttering and barging near them? Do these people not understand the concept of personal space?

The invasion of personal space leads me on nicely to courses and people who attend courses. *Please contain your excitement that I’m no longer going to harp on about supermarkets*. Whilst serving my sentence, like the majority of prisoners, I had to adhere to a sentence plan. Part of mine was to attend courses about Domestic Abuse, in order to understand what a healthy relationship was and how to recognise the signs of potentially abusive ones. The ladies I took this course with were respectful, patient and tolerant. Those in the real world are so far removed from this I am truly amazed. How is it, that the ‘dregs of society’ (i.e. those who are actually barred from society) often have more consideration for others?

Annie is still working full-time for an international business networking organisation where she helps to do the regional admin for three counties. She’s been there since February when she left prison and her day release placement with Blue Sky finished. She says:

“The Office Manager is leaving and they have asked me if I’d to interview for a similar position. They want to create a goal plan with me to help me get to where I’d like to go and to train me up at the same time. They feel that this way I get the support I need and am encouraged rather than set up to fail. I was quite surprised and proud that they thought highly enough of me to do that, particularly because of where i was only a few months ago”

You can read installments 1, 2 and 3 of Annie’s blog here

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Marlon’s Story

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Marlon had a full-time job as a courier but when he committed a serious driving offence he had his licence stripped from him for 3.5 years. The very next day he lost his job and the steady income that came with it.

Marlon3After being unemployed for some time he was placed on the Work Programme and his Advisor quickly referred him to Blue Sky. He says that the work was right up his street as it’s hands on and outdoors. He was interviewed on a Friday and started on the Monday working in the grounds maintenance team in Lambeth cemetery with Veolia. He really enjoys the work as each day there are different tasks to do; sometimes it’s strimming around the headstones where you have to be really precise and sometimes it’s maintaining the rose beds. Apparently the only down side is that occasionally you can be strimming and a slug gets caught up and flies into your face!

Blue Sky is helping Marlon to get his driving licence by sourcing and funding lessons as well as the test. With his licence back he hopes to get a job as a courier or delivery driver again when his contract with Blue Sky ends.

“Blue Sky was there when I needed them the most. Within 4 days of my first contact with them I was in a full-time job that I actually enjoy doing. They’re effective, do what they say they’ll do and are always there to help”


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Tristan’s story in his own words

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“I’m 27 years old and work on the recycling team with Veolia in Richmond. It’s hard work but I really enjoy being outdoors everyday. By giving me this job Blue Sky has definitely helped to keep me on the straight and narrow. Being in work has improved my family life loads, especially my relationship with my girlfriend because we’ve now got a permanent home together.


Blue Sky and Veolia give people a chance to prove themselves, there’s not many companies that actually do that. I’ve learnt a lot and can now see more opportunities for me in the future. Plus, Blue Sky has paid for me to do a counterbalance forklift driving course which I’ve passed so can add that to my CV too”



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Carwyn’s blog- “Heroes”

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“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with their freedom”  – Bob Dylan

August was a month of heroic achievement for Blue Sky – not only did we hit the heady heights of having over 100 ex-offenders on our payroll for the first time ever, but we also took part in the Virgin Active Triathlon. I say ‘we’, it was actually Steve, John, Malcolm and Dave. 4 men, putting their bodies through 3 gruelling pursuits, with 1 objective – raising money for Blue Sky. The members of Team Blue Sky will always deserve to take a bow, will always remember crossing the line, a memory crystallised in the medal that they all keep in a special place. But there were other Triathlon heroes that day…

Among the donors who gave so generously to help us reach and exceed our fundraising target of £5,000 are a group who deserve a special cheer - our current and former ex-offender employees, the very beneficiaries of our charity, who put their hands in their pockets and made a donation themselves. Many donated by text (like Luke, pictured), some sent cash, others asked for a donation to be deducted from their wages. Big hearts, modest means. Prepared to give something back to Blue Sky and to help others, having themselves been given a helping hand. What better expression of their sense of responsibility as free citizens, living up to Dylan’s definition of what it is to be a hero.

All the money raised from the Triathlon appeal will help us to support an ever increasing number of people through training, housing and help to find on-going employment.



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Closed Loop

Carwyn’s blog – Closing the loop on re-offending

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Blue Sky is growing, winning an increasing number of commercial contracts to create jobs for ex-offenders. Since 2005 we have now employed over 940 ex-offenders, and currently have over 100 on our payroll. Building on our mainstay work over the years in grounds maintenance, Blue Sky has diversified in recent times to create employment opportunities in catering, distribution, laundry and waste management. This diversification would not be possible without teaming up with commercial companies bold and broad-minded enough to support our mission to reduce re-offending by giving ex-offenders a second chance in life. One such company is Closed Loop, a state-of-the-art plastics recycling plant based in Dagenham. Blue Sky CEO Mick May and I were fortunate enough to be given a tour of the plant by Head of Operations, Gerry Martin.

IMG_1064We meet Gerry in an office with a large window looking onto the plant: a vast, intricate interconnected structure of vats, pipes and conveyor belts. On the sill of the window sit examples of Closed Loop’s bread and butter business: ‘PET’ plastic bottles (the see-through kind used for drinks) and ‘HDPE’ bottles (the opaque kind that contain milk). Gerry, a spirited and hugely enthusiastic Scot, explains the recycling process in outline before taking us round the factory.

Closed Loop buys ‘bales’ of plastic waste from companies such as Viridor and Veolia who collect the stuff from the kerbside outside our homes. This waste (mostly plastic bottles but also containing other items of jaw-dropping variety, gleefully listed by Gerry) is then cleaned and sorted by a series of machines equipped with jets, lasers, magnets, and belts on different levels with gaps designed to filter out right from wrong-sized items. Gerry tells us the plant uses the very latest technology from around the world. It took a while to wade through the owner’s manuals, he quips, but it’s all now working beautifully. IMG_1066However, despite being cutting edge and deeply impressive, the technology can only go so far in sorting out the wheat from the chaff. Human eyes and hands are needed to pick out some of the rogue items that get missed by the uber-machines. This is where Blue Sky employees do their bit as part of Closed Loop’s team, working tough 12-hour shifts. Gerry steps in quickly to demonstrate the task, expertly scanning the fast-moving belt before fishing out then binning a white plastic medicine bottle.

We then leave the cleaning and sorting section of the plant (noisy and dirty for sure, but not half as bad as we were warned to expect) before entering the production zone, where the purring kit is Alpine, gleaming, dairy-clean. IMG_1070In, around and through further vats and pipes finally flows the end product into waiting, heavy-duty bags: small white pellets in the case of HDPE and colourless flakes in the case of PET. This is the stuff that Closed Loop sells to the manufacturers of bottles that eventually then end up in our homes. There’s huge demand for what Closed Loop does. It’s the only plant of its kind in the country producing both kinds of plastic, open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and employing 120 people.

We end the tour in a mini-laboratory that quality-checks the end product, a step not required by the industry but insisted on by Closed Loop. We suggest to Gerry Martin that he must be proud of the plant. “Not really,” says Gerry, suddenly and disarmingly downbeat in his judgement, having shown such enthusiasm on the tour. He goes on to explain, “There’s so much more we still need to do, especially in the sorting and cleaning section.” Gerry is clearly driven by a tireless perfectionism, a passion for getting things right. “We want to establish a different kind of culture here, one that is all about manufacturing, about producing something not just recycling. We want to focus on the quality of what we do and what we produce, not just ‘tonnage’, volume. The recycling industry as a whole is in its infancy in that regard.”

IMG_1073It’s inspirational to see such dedication at work in a largely hidden part of the economy, to witness the pursuit of quality for products that most of us take for granted. Blue Sky, I reflect, has a lot in common with Closed Loop, equally tireless in its pursuit of employment opportunities and quality support for ex-offenders who all too frequently are left on society’s kerbside, jobless on release from prison, out of the loop.

Carwyn Gravell

Blue Sky’s employment model

The jobs created by Blue Sky are ‘entry level’ opportunities (low-skilled, physically demanding at times) suitable for anyone regardless of previous employment or educational attainment. They may not be the most glamorous jobs in the world but they give ex-offenders an invaluable opportunity to prove themselves from day one, with little danger of reinforcing past failure. The jobs provide stability, a starting point, a platform to go on to achieve other things. During their 6-month contract employees receive training and help to find on-going employment. Nearly half go on to find a job elsewhere. Find out more about our support for employees here.

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Working in Gloucester

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We have a new partnership with Gloucester City Homes where we can place ex-offenders into their Estate Services Team. Click on their logo below to read more and hear about Neville, the first Blue Sky employee to be start with them.


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