Improving ex-offenders’ prospects through Groundwork’s ‘Green Start’ programme

by May 26, 2023Future Skills Commission for Prisons, News, News & events, Prisoners and ex-offenders

Groundwork is a federation of charities mobilising practical community action on poverty and the environment across the UK. Dedicated to supporting communities and creating a green future, they aim to improve people’s prospects and promote opportunities for everyone, whatever their background or circumstances.

As part of Groundwork’s commitment to enhancing opportunities for employability, back in 2021 they launched their ‘Green Start’ programme, in partnership with us at the City & Guilds Foundation. The programme delivers training for ex-offenders to develop construction and land-based skills, including carbon literacy and green skills.

Delayed by Covid and the impact that had in the prison estate, the programme began fully in Spring of 2022, and was implemented by Groundwork Greater Manchester at HMP Forest Bank. To date, the programme has been successfully completed by 38 prisoners with 11 more currently in progress.

Developed in partnership with employers to foster real job opportunities, the 10-week programme combines theory with practical skills development in joinery/carpentry, plastering, tiling, bricklaying and flagging. Crucially, the programme also engages with issues of sustainability in construction, with sessions on environmental concerns and carbon literacy being well-received by learners.

89% of programme participants have successfully passed City & Guilds Level 1 Health & Safety in Construction, and over half of those have gone on to pass their Level 2. Impressively, 35% of prisoners on the programme are now carbon literacy qualified, with a 100% success rate. Of the eighteen programme participants who have been released back into the community, thirteen have passed their Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) test to allow them on to a construction site and over 60% have progressed into work or further training!

Andy Harrison, Head of Learning and Development at Groundwork stated:

“It’s been truly inspiring to hear about the progress being made by the people who’ve taken part in the Green Start programme, and we’re really excited about the potential for this to develop, particularly as the demand for green skills continues to grow. As with anything new, Green Start hasn’t been without its challenges, so the flexibility and support that’s been offered by the City & Guilds Foundation has been critical in helping to ensure we maintain a focus on the quality of our offer and the positive impacts on participants. We couldn’t be prouder of the achievements of those who have completed the programme so far.”

The considerable impact of the programme is also evidenced in the overwhelmingly positive feedback from prison staff, tutors, employers and programme participants. Staff at HMP Forest Bank Prison are keen to see the expansion of the programme and tutors have remarked on the rise in student confidence to engage in employment and further education. Employer contacts remain strong with Wilmott Dixon, Morgan Sindall and Equans, and job offers have come directly as a result of the programme.

Programme participants have emphasised their increased motivation and confidence to succeed in employment on release from custody. Those who have sustained employment are confident, successful individuals who have managed to break the cycle of crime. As one learner stated:

“Prior to this course, I felt a bit lost and not knowing what to do in life. Now I know joinery is my way forward. By the end of week 1, I felt self-motivated to attend the course, gain skills to employment and improve my personal circumstances.”

Besides the outstanding benefits of the programme itself, the project has highlighted a major problem for ex-offenders. With a large majority of the learners released from custody being homeless, this has had a knock-on effect on motivation and negatively impacted employment. Admirably, Groundwork Greater Manchester has been active in creating partnerships with Local Housing Allowance and homeless charities to enhance the prospects of Green Start graduates.

Following the success of the Green Start programme, plans are underway to expand the number of learners on the course and deliver the benefits of the programme to more ex-offenders and local communities.

It really has been inspiring to see the difference that the Green Start programme has had on the lives of the men involved and the level of support and commitment provided by Groundwork. It is the important work of organisations such as Groundwork that help to drive change and improve the lives of many, and it was great to be able to demonstrate the impact of the programme to HRH The Princess Royal recently at our Prisons Impact event in HMP Pentonville.

Groundwork’s exceptional programme is just one example of how we’re working in partnership with a range of organisations to help prisoners develop skills and move into lasting employment on release. Through our partnerships, we aim to make a real difference in the lives of individuals and in communities as a whole.

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