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.
Following on from a highly successful fashion show at the Old Bailey last year, Blue Sky was very pleased to be involved in another one, this time in The Mansion House. This year Mencap is the charity being supported by the Lord Mayor’s Appeal so Gilly Yarrow, the Lady Mayoress, decided to turn The Mansion House Egyptian Hall into a catwalk to raise money.
Blue Sky was asked to be involved by Sue Bonham, a London designer who has been having clothes made in our ‘Stitch in Time’ textiles workshop for over a year. We jumped at the chance to give the women in our workshop in HMP Bronzefield a new project to get stuck in to.
Allison Enenche, our Programme Manager, and Sue asked the women who would like to design an outfit for the catwalk and four stepped forward for the challenge. As expected all four were very keen to be involved and couldn’t believe they were being given the chance to design clothes as well as make them. Sue, who also had her collection shown on the catwalk, spent a lot of time in the prison teaching the women new skills and techniques that were necessary for them to make the items.
The Mansion House was a beautiful place to hold a fashion show and the ball room was packed full with Mencap supporters, eager to bag a front row seat. The clothes made by the ladies in the Stitch workshop were as well received as any of the other collections in the show. To see the warm reaction from the audience when it was announced the collection was made in prison created a huge sense of pride for the Blue Sky staff that were helping on the day.
“It has been really amazing to see the women take ownership of this project. As soon as the opportunity arose to create their own line the women started sketching their ideas straight away. There was huge excitement in the workshop for weeks, opportunities like these have such a great effect on the ladies’ self-confidence and engagement. Looking forward to the next fashion show now…” Allison Enenche, ‘Stitch in Time’ Programme Manager
In 2012 Blue Sky diversified from operating solely in the community to working inside prison too and created ‘Blue Sky Inside
’. We set up a textiles workshop called ‘Stitch in Time’ in a women’s prison and manufacture bags and other items for clients such as Anya Hindmarch and Brora. In 2014 a charity fashion show was held at the Old Bailey where the clothes in designer Sue Bonham’s collection were made by women in the workshop. The former Lord Mayor, Fiona Woolf, wore a bespoke dress made for her by Maria in the prison. Full story here
“We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams”
Willy Wonka played by Gene Wilder in ‘Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’ (1971)
I catch up with Maureen, one of Blue Sky Inside’s employees at the Stitch in Time textiles workshop at HMP Bronzefield, a few days before she’s due to be released. I last saw Maureen just before Christmas when she told me about her granddaughter, Zinaida, and how she’d been inspired by her Nana’s work in prison to ask for a sewing machine for Christmas.
I ask Maureen how Zinaida has been getting on. “Brilliant! She and her mum are making all sorts. In fact, the whole family’s now at it!” says Maureen. “My daughter – I’ll be moving in with her when I get released – has turned the garden shed into a craft and textiles workshop for Zinaida,” explains Maureen. “It’s going to be called Zinaida’s Boutique. Her brothers and sisters will be joining in, cousins visiting too. Even my youngest grandson who’s 7 will be helping out. He says he wants to be the engineer in case there’s a problem with one of the machines.”
Though it’ll mainly be a hangout for her grandchildren, Maureen will also be allowed into the boutique. After all, she has work to do… Through Blue Sky’s Matched Grant Scheme, Maureen has bought a sewing machine which she’ll use for various jobs and projects. “It’s a dream come true having that machine to look forward to when I leave. I look at the brochure every evening in my room, reading about what it can do.” She already has a commission – producing curtains for her ex-landlord, who owns over 100 flats. “I’ve warned him though, they’re not going to be ‘beige neutral’. They’ll be colourful, vibrant and alive.” Vibrant and alive are good words to describe Maureen as she talks about the boutique. “I think you definitely need something, a project, a purpose, to look forward to when you leave prison. Something to keep you focussed. Stitch in Time has given me that focus, got me interested in sewing, something I didn’t know I cared about, kept me working and learning while I’ve been inside, and I want that to continue on the outside.”
Maureen’s face lights up again as she sets out her vision for Zinaida’s boutique. It’ll have loads of boxes of fabric, zips and buttons; stuff that you can pick up at junk shops. “It’ll be a place where you can make something out of nothing,” explains Maureen. “The other day, my daughter made a costume for my grandson for World Book Day at school. All the other parents had bought their kids stuff to wear. But my daughter made her costume herself and it got first prize. It was Willy Wonka’s purple suit from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…”
Willy Wonka would approve I’m sure of the magical factory that is Stitch in Time, producing not only clothes and textiles but also dreams.
Maureen (not her real name) will be one of the first women at the workshop to receive mentoring support when they leave prison. In a pilot initiative funded by the Oak Foundation, Blue Sky is working with our merger partners RAPt to support 6 women ‘through the gate’ over the next 12 months, helping them to develop and to implement action plans for effective resettlement.
Many thanks to Dan Watkins, Parliamentary Spokesman for Tooting, for organising the visit of the Secretary of State for Justice, Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, to see Quadron’s partnership with Blue Sky in action at Wandsworth. The centre piece of the morning was the induction and training of 5 new Blue Sky recruits as grounds maintenance operatives – including a demonstration for the Minister of how to use a strimmer (as a dedicated horticulturist, he showed a keen interest!) Good luck to the Blue Sky boys as they start their 6-month journey with us and engage with the training and housing support that we also offer.
It wasn’t only Blue Sky’s work that was being showcased on the day. We heard from George Turner about his outstanding work with Carney’s Community to motivate and mentor young ex-offenders, a project inspired by boxing legend Mick Carney who turned around many lives through engagement with boxing. Alongside George was Danny, taken on by Blue Sky on referral from Carney’s 9 months ago. Danny passed on to the new Blue Sky recruits the message that he was in their shoes a little while ago. And now, having made the most of the chance, he’s progressed to working in railway maintenance, with good future prospects.
Chris Grayling MP with Dan Watkins, Cristina Fernandez and Julie Muir from RAPt and Blue Sky’s Carwyn Gravell
Blue Sky supervisor Darren showing the Justice Minister how to use a strimmer
Also inspirational were our merger partners RAPt, which helps over 20,000 offenders with substance misuse problems every year, working in 26 prisons in England and Wales. We are working with RAPt to create a referral pathway to take on graduates of its prison rehab programmes as Blue Sky employees, with a particular interest in employing prisoners on Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL). Living proof of how ROTL can work was given by RAPt graduate Wayne*. Coming to the end of a 10-year sentence, Wayne has been working for RAPt as a Resettlement Worker, leaving HMP Standford Hill each day and getting the train to their Vauxhall HQ. By working while still in prison, Wayne is building a future. “It’s a future full of hope…” he says. “For the first time ever I’ve actually saved some money, which I can use to help with housing when I get out, or to get a car…”
There are many others, says Wayne, who would leap at the chance of working on ROTL. Back in prison, Wayne tells people about RAPt’s partnership with Blue Sky and the jobs we have for ex-offenders. “A light goes on when you tell them this,” he says. “They feel hope.” Thanks to partners like Quadron, Carney’s and RAPt, this hope is being fulfilled by Blue Sky for more and more ex-offenders.
How paid ROTL works
- Prisoners can apply for paid ROTL when they have 25% or less left on their sentence
- Before being eligible, they have to have undertaken 28 days’ voluntary work
- From then on they can earn a wage
- The wage is received by the National Offender Management Service. It deducts 40% that goes to victims’ charities and then pays the balance into the prisoner’s bank account
* Name has been changed
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.