Creating collective impact in the rehabilitation sector

by Mar 21, 2024Charity partners, Future Skills Commission for Prisons, News, News & events, Prisoners and ex-offenders

This is a guest post by Ian Bickers, Founder of Unlocking Justice and member of our Future Skills Commission for Prisons.

When the City & Guilds Foundation organised a day bringing together the people they are partnering with in the rehabilitation space, I was delighted to be asked to speak at it and share some of my own learnings from 20 years of working in, and with, prisons.

My first impression from the day was the sheer amount of knowledge and experience gathered in the room. From charities working with prisons in many innovative ways to City & Guilds staff and stakeholders through to a seasoned Prison Governor and even the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, it’s clear that there is the will, verve and commitment to come together and share our work with the aim of forging connections and making greater impact where it’s needed most.

We started the day by working in smaller groups to find out what each organisation’s priorities are and how they are delivering impact. The sector in which we work has so many organisations and initiatives, that a big part of the challenge is firstly knowing what everyone is doing and, secondly working out how we can be more strategic in our approaches to ensure that we are making a collective impact.

The work that is taking place – just from organisations within the room – is staggering.  It ranged from organisations going into prisons to deliver training, getting laptops into prisons to improve digital literacy, matching mentors with prisoners to support on job searches and preparing for interviews beyond the gates and providing support around the other skills that go hand-in-hand with leaving the prison system and successfully integrating back into society.

A challenge that many of us face is around engaging the employers to ensure that the jobs are there for people leaving the prison system and that the recruitment processes in place are not creating barriers to getting these jobs. Many organisations in the room also face challenges of getting their work into prisons in the first place and creating relationships and ensuring that both Governors and key partners in prisons know what you are doing and are on board, is critical in making this happen.

During the day I spoke about what I have learnt from my time as a Governor, Prison Group Director and, more recently, through my work consulting in prisons. I describe the Pre-suasion element of work that partners need to do as key to getting into a prison in order to deliver your training or service. If you can quantify the work you are doing and the impact it’s having and can tell the Governor how your work will provide better outcomes for the people in that particular prison, then you’re halfway there.

A valuable part of the day was the chance to speak to a panel of heavyweights in the sector made up of: Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector from HMIP; Emily Martin, Governor at Highdown; and Founder of Coracle, James Tweed. Emily spoke about making your work relevant and being creative in your approach. An example she gave was that she knows training across all staff levels is needed, but when your prison is running at 99.9% capacity, you can’t stop the regime to provide staff with large amounts of time off, so training has to be delivered in short blocks and in a flexible way. If organisations can understand the context that the prison is operating in and provide a solution that works within this, that helps hugely in terms of bringing in a new initiative and it being a help and not a hindrance.

We heard learnings from some of the organisations that the City & Guilds Foundation has funded through its £1m Big Ideas Fund from Bounce Back taking VR headsets into a prison to develop construction skills through to Groundwork which is about to replicate its successful Green Start programme, delivering construction and land-based skills, to women at HMP Styal.

The day culminated with us hearing from Duncan O’Leary, Chief Executive of the New Futures Network about how we should all be working together to have a unified voice to initiate change, particularly around how we want future funding to be awarded across the sector. A powerful reminder that we all need to be working together to get best outcomes.

From my extensive experience of what works in this space, I think this coming together to lobby and make change is what matters here. By utilising the City & Guilds Foundation’s existing platform and reach, we can work together to create systematic change. Of course, this will take time. But I do believe that it is through collaboration that we will make a difference from the top-down and the knock on effect is that we can then improve the outcomes for more people coming out of the prison system; which at the end of the day is the reason why most of us choose to work, and stay, in this sector.

I am looking forward to keeping the conversations going with the City & Guilds Foundation and the charities they convened in the room, so that collectively we make even more of a difference when it comes to rehabilitation. As City & Guilds would say – skills development in the Prison Estate is beneficial to the individual receiving the training, of course, but it also benefits the organisations these individuals go on to work for when they fill skills gaps and ultimately, society we’re all part of. The aims is to contribute significantly by reducing the risk of reoffending – which costs over £18bn a year!

Find out more about the work City & Guilds Foundation is doing here.

Find out more about Unlocking Justice here.

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