“What’s the point?” nothing changes, nobody wants to employ an ex prisoner, that’s the truth”
Those were the words of a homeless ex prisoner Kris, who I met whilst running an accommodation project called Out 4 Good, with several jail terms behind him at the age of 24.
That man is now 34 years old and a manager of a housing association working to re-house ex addicts and alcoholics. His recovery was a long slippery road with massive obstacles to overcome, and it was meeting him that decided my course of action over the last decade.Employment is a key factor in everyone’s life, whether it just be for economic reasons, vocational reasons, or altruistic reasons, and having the basics – a place to live, someone to care for you, a feeling of belonging aids us on our journey, and we can help in providing that.
GO4 Enterprises C.I.C is a follow on initiative from Out4Good, whereas accommodation is the key ingredient for O4G, Work, training & support is the mission of GO4The company formed in 2010 and started off with a £100 investment from myself and another founding Director, and we attended to small gardening and decorating jobs. The lads we met volunteered with us, 27 over the first year, we introduced mentoring into their lives, as well as purposeful activity, football, canoeing, sailing, powerboating, all delivered through the generosity of supporters and partner organisations such as FACT charitable trust, an outdoor activity centre in Essex.
It is clear though that to reduce the levels of recidivism unless employment is achieved then individuals quickly become disillusioned and give up and return to offending. In 2010 one in five of young people were out of work, and GO4 formed as a response to that as well.
GO4 now turns over around £90k gross, running an indoor market/café in the centre of Colchester. All the staff, apart from managers, come either from an offending, homeless background, disabled, or learning difficulties and GO4 gives them initial work experience places leading to paid employment when appropriate.
Individuals will gain Level 1 & 2 Food Hygiene, help with budgeting, CV’s, and some will go on to work either for ourselves or another company as they pick up work ethic, confidence, self esteem, and experience whilst they are with us.GO4 also operated a contract gardening service to a local housing association for two years, but disappointingly this work ceased in 2015.
Over the last three years we have had six apprentices, 3 have gone the full term of their apprenticeships and progressed into paid employment, one staying with us on a full time contract, 3 failed to complete their apprenticeships.
The support the apprentices received was less than satisfactory with several changes to tutors, gaps between training provision, poor communication with learners, so when I heard of SWARM and their approach I felt it important to research as we still wish to take on apprentices as they add value to the company. What is of particular interest about Swarm and the support they offer, is that some of the people we engage with have poor educational standards and do not achieve and may well be unemployable in a traditional environment because of that. However they show resourcefulness and enterprise and these are elements that are key in developing entrepreneurial activities, as in some cases, self employment, sole trading is possibly the only route available for them, and something we are keen to encourage, as well of course benefit as a company from their ideas and input.