Future Skills Commission for Prisons

Our mission:

“To identify and activate practical ways for offenders to build skills and get a job upon release.”

About the commission

Latest news

The Big Idea Fund

About the Commission

A priority theme for The City & Guilds Foundation over the past five years has been supporting the rehabilitation of offenders and former offenders.

There is a recognised and agreed need to reduce reoffending and evidence shows that upskilling prisoners, together with stable accommodation and support is the most effective way to counter recidivism.

The Foundation is amplifying its work in its area through the launch of The Future Skills Commission for Prisons.

The Commission has been established as a new vehicle for the City & Guilds Foundation to support inspirational organisations who are delivering innovative programmes that support offenders to build the skills and move into employment.

Drawing on the expertise of our Commissioners each of whom has substantial experience in the prison sector, The Commission aims to identify and activate practical solutions that will have a measurable impact on reducing reoffending, through working in partnership with charities that deliver practical solutions.

“This is not just a social agenda: it’s hard economics. Industries are facing a burgeoning skills crisis, and there is a huge amount of untapped potential in our prison population. If we get better at developing this potential and matching it with the skills needed for the future, the rewards can be enormous. And we are committed to finding innovative ways to do this.”

Kirstie Donnelly MBE

Chief Executive Officer, City & Guilds Group

Our Commissioners

Dame Sally Coates FCGI

Dame Sally Coates FCGI

Director of Secondary Education, United Learning

Sally Coates was Principal of Burlington Danes Academy, an 11-18 Ark Academy in Hammersmith & Fulham from 2008 – 2014. 67 of the students receive the pupil premium grant and it mostly serves the very deprived White City Estate.

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Under Sally’s headship, the school results almost doubled, with a massive 79 of pupils achieving the benchmark 5A*-C including English and Maths and 46. Burlington Danes was graded ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in November 2013.

Sally chaired The Review of the Teaching Standards and most recently chaired the Skills Test Review. In September 2014 Sally joined United Learning as Director of Academies South. Sally was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2013 New Year’s Honours List.

Junior Smart

Junior Smart

Founder, SOS Gangs Project

Having served a 12 year sentence Junior Smart founded the SOS Gangs Project, which is run by the St Giles Trust and helps transform the lives of 400 troubled young people and ex-offenders a year, including some of the most prolific gang members in the capital.

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Founded in 2006 in Southwark, the project is peer-led by 23 full-time staff and 13 volunteers, almost all ex-offender gang members like Junior.

Junior has won numerous awards for his work including; an Honorary Doctorate in Education, Rare Rising Stars Winner 2017, Yvonne Heard Award in Criminology: Best PG Dissertation, Frost Magazine Writer of the Year, Adult Learners Award Advice, Support and Advocacy Community Charity Champion, The Third Sector Excellence Awards 2011, Hero of South London 2008 South London Press Community Champion

James Timpson OBE FCGI

James Timpson OBE FCGI

Chief Executive, Timpson Group

James Timpson is Chief Executive of Timpson, the UK’s leading retail service provider and a family retail business, established in 1865 and based in Manchester. The business trades from 1,725 shops across country.

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Shops comprise 920 Timpson outlets and a mix of Max Spielmann and Snappy Snaps photo shops (also including the Johnsons the Cleaners and Jeeves of Belgravia businesses). Away from Timpson, James is Chair of the Prison Reform Trust and was, until 2016, Chair of the Employers Forum for Reducing Re-offending (EFFRR), a group of likeminded employers who offer a second chance to people with a criminal conviction.

His passion and enthusiasm for business, people, his team and the wider community was recognised in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, where he was awarded an OBE for ‘Services to Training and Employment for Disadvantaged People’.

James was appointed the HRH Prince of Wales Ambassador for responsible business in the North West in 2015. In the same year, he received the Albert Medal from the Royal Society of Arts. He appeared in the Sunday Times 500 Most Influential list in 2016, acknowledging his recruitment of ex-offenders.

Ian Bickers

Ian Bickers

Deputy Director, Education, Employment and Industries Group

Ian was the Governor at HMP Wandsworth – England’s largest public sector prison – and has over 16 years’ experience working across the prison estate. After leaving school at 16 with no qualifications, Ian worked in financial services before completing an Open University degree in Psychology.​

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He went on to complete a Masters in Criminology at Cambridge University graduating in 2016.

He joined the Prison Service in 2004 and worked at HMP Bullingdon. Ian first worked at HMP Wandsworth as Deputy Governor in 2010 and described his first year as “the toughest I’ve ever had, in any job”.

He returned to Wandsworth as Prison Governor in 2015, and was chosen by the Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service to become one of four Executive Governors who would pilot governor autonomy under the prison reform programme.

Roisin Currie

Roisin Currie

Retail Operations and People Director, Greggs PLC and Chair of the Employers’ Forum of Reducing Reoffending

Roisin has had 28 years in the Retail Industry, starting her career at Asda on their graduate scheme where she ultimately became the Retail People Director for ASDA WAL-MART.

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She has spent the last 10 years are Greggs PLC and is currently their Retail Operations and People Director. During her time at Greggs she has overseen the launch of the Fresh Start programme which offers employment opportunities to ex-offenders.

Roisin is also the chair of The Employers’ Forum for Reducing Re-offending (EFFRR) is a HMPPS-led initiative whose members are a collective of local and national employers that provide training and employment opportunities for offenders, including Cisco, Timpsons and Marks & Spencer.

Simon Wethered

Simon Wethered

Legal Expert and City & Guilds Council Member

Simon was one of the Charity Commission’s two legally-qualified board members from 2006 to 2012. Simon was a legal consultant specialising in charities with Charles Russell LLP and was formerly a partner there.

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He has 37 years experience as a solicitor, 17 specialising in charity work.

Simon was also a trustee of Marie Curie Cancer Care, Chair of the St Martin in the Fields Christmas Appeal Charity among other trusteeships in the charity sector. He is a member of the Charity Law Association, associate member of the Charity Finance Directors’ Group and co-editor of the Charity Law Handbook.

Simon has been Official Prison Visitor at HMP Wormwood Scrubs for 35 years and is currently Chair of the Wormwood Scrubs branch of the National Association of Official Prison Visitors.

Mark Norbury

Mark Norbury

Chief Executive, UnLtd

Mark joined UnLtd as CEO in May 2016. Prior to that he spent over 20 years’ in the charity and social entrepreneurship sectors, most recently as Chief Executive of CW+, the charity for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

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Prior to this Mark was a Partner at Leader’s Quest, developing a global community of purpose-driven leaders across private, public and social sectors and also a Trustee of the foundation of impact investor Bridges Ventures.

 Mark has an EMBA with distinction from INSEAD and studied Psychology and Philosophy at Oxford University.

Kirstie Donnelly MBE

Kirstie Donnelly MBE

CEO, City & Guilds Group

The City & Guilds Group exists to help people, organisations and economies develop their skills for growth, and sets the standards for corporate learning, on-the-job development and skills recognition.

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Kirstie plays a prominent role in driving the national and international skills agenda – something she has personal experience of as he followed the vocational education path himself. He is a member of the Business in the Community Employment and Skills Leadership team and Chairman at the Activate Learning Group. Before joining the City & Guilds Group, Chris held several senior management positions in Pearson and Reed Elsevier.

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The Big Idea Fund

The Future Skills Commission for Prisons ‘Big Idea Fund’ is designed to act as a catalyst to find and activate great ideas that can make a genuine and substantial difference to society.

Focus of the Big Idea Fund

The City & Guilds Foundation has launched The Future Skills Commission for Prisons with the announcement of a £1.0 million Big Idea Fund to inspire UK charities, prison Governors and social innovators to develop transformative approaches support former offenders to develop the skills they need to find employment.

The Commissioners will use The Big Idea Fund and an aligned programme of work, to support projects which can evidence that they:

  • Explore innovative new ways to enable offenders to progress into meaningful, stable employment through the development of their skills
  • To ensure that the skills agenda in prisons is forward facing and that offenders develop the skills necessary for the future jobs market
  • To identify new approaches and showcase effectiveness.

What we were looking for

The Commission is interested in ideas that focus on skills that get people into a job which are:

  1. Innovative: support the development of innovation, which can be stifled by the nature of how some contracts are awarded
  2. Practical: focused on identifying practical and deliverable solutions
  3. Collaborative: powers collaboration between the multiple stakeholders operating within the Prison estate
  4. Pan-Prison: identifies approaches that work across the Prison estate
  5. Systemic: seek to challenge the major system challenges faced by the HM Prison Service with large, high conviction investments

Solutions to support the rural economy and land-based sector
Commissioners were also particularly interested to receive applications from applicants seeking to innovate in the rural economy or thought developing skills pathways that might help The Big Idea Fund achieve its stated mission through land-based interventions

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The City & Guilds Foundation has launched The Future Skills Commission for Prisons with the announcement of a £1.0 million Big Idea fund to inspire UK charities, prison Governors and social innovators to develop transformative approaches to delivery of skills in prisons.

These frequently asked questions are intended to support applicants to The Big Idea Fund, and offer further insight, guidance and support:

In addition to the desired attributes above, The Big Idea Fund will only accept applications for projects that meet all the following criteria:

  • Are from a UK registered Charity, Community Interest Company, social enterprise, Prison Governor or other not-for-profit organisation operating within the prison estate
  • Seek funding for work which is being delivered in Prisons or in the community with those that are due for release or have recently left a HMPPS facility

The Big Idea Fund is not able to support:

  • For profit businesses
  • Local Authorities
  • Organisations where observance of a particular faith is a prerequisite of support from the organisation or who have a stated objective of evangelising for a particular faith.

Full FAQs can be found here and should be consulted by organisations before they apply to The Big Idea Fund.

It is also unable to support applications which relate to:

  • Existing core activities
  • Predominantly research (although projects with an element of research will be considered, where there is a clear case for its value)
  • Repayment of loans
  • Projects which have already been delivered
  • Projects which are unable to evidence their impact by reporting against City & Guilds evaluation framework and theory of change*

Programmes do not need to be delivered in prison to be considered, through the gate projects that support offenders are also eligible.

* Projects will be expected to report against some of the key outcome measures of the City & Guilds evaluation framework, which may include skills enhanced, individuals getting into employment and training, increased wellbeing, enhanced earnings potential and a reduction in negative behaviours.

Can I apply?

Expressions of interest will be accepted from UK registered charities, Community Interest Companies, social enterprises, Prison Governors (or other learning and development employees within a Prison) or organisations currently operating within the prison estate or in through the gates activity with ex-offenders. Local Authorities or other statutory agencies can apply for projects that represent innovation, but not where any application simply replaces existing or past statutory activity. Commissioners will be seeking innovative ideas with the potential to prove measurable impact and ability to scale and will be open minded as to which projects can help achieve the ambitious mission of The Big Idea Fund.

What are the parameters of the definition of work in prisons or in activity with offenders through the gates?

Commissioners will accept applications that propose innovative projects working within Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, the executive agency of the Ministry of Justice responsible for the correctional services in England and Wales – abbreviated to HMPPS. Commissioners will also consider projects working in the community with those that are due for release or have recently left a HMPPS facility.

Can a social enterprise apply?

Yes, Commissioners will accept applications from social enterprises that can demonstrate their credentials and alignment with the stated mission.

Are Local Authorities eligible to apply?

Yes, Commissioners will accept applications from Local Authorities, but only where the proposed project or innovation is new and does not represent a continuation or replacement of business as usual, existing or past statutory provision.

Can a Further Education Institute apply?

Yes, a Further Education College or other educational institution can apply where they have an innovative, scalable approach that is distinct from business as usual activity.

We are already working with City & Guilds in some capacity, can we apply?

Yes, but applicants are asked to declare the nature of their existing relationship with the City & Guilds of London Institute and any of its brands in the Expression of Interest form. The form has a specific section which addresses this point.

Are for-profit companies able to apply?

No, for profit companies are not permitted to apply unless they are jointly applying in partnership with an eligible entity such as a registered UK charity. Commissioners will maintain an open mind as they seek genuine innovation that can help support progress towards the stated mission.

Can a charitable foundation linked to a for profit company apply?

Yes, Commissioners will consider applications proposed by the charitable foundations of relevant for profit companies where a project meets the stated objectives of the fund and supports the Mission of The Big Idea Fund.

Is work outside the UK eligible?

No, all proposed projects must be active in the UK in the HMPPS Estate or in activity directly working in through the gates activity across the UK.

Must our project be delivered in England?

No, projects connected to prisons across the UK, including Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey will be considered by Commissioners.

How will my application be assessed?

Your initial Expression of Interest will be reviewed by a panel of experts with extensive experience in grant making and impact measurement. Successful applicants will be contacted and asked to work up their proposal into a detailed submission for further consideration by the Commissioners.

Can I propose a joint bid alongside another eligible partner / partners?

Commissioners will welcome joint bids and are eager to understand how collaboration in the sector might be fostered.

How do I apply?

All applicants must complete an initial Expression of Interest from which will include details of the nature and scale of your organisation, any existing relationship with the City & Guilds of London Institute and a broad sketch of your proposed innovation. This on-line form has been designed to allow interested parties to share an initial picture of their proposal without the need for a time- consuming detailed submission at the first stage.

Can I apply by post or fax?

No, all expressions of interest must be submitted through the online form.

Will late or incomplete submissions be accepted?

No, all submissions must be included in full and submitted in advance of the stated deadline. No late submissions can be considered.

Will I receive a receipt for my submission?

Yes, all applicants will receive an automated response to acknowledge receipt of their Expression of Interest.

Will applicants receive feedback if they are not selected through the next stage?

Due to the volume of applications, the City & Guilds Foundation is not able to provide feedback to individual applicants. Unsuccessful applicants will be informed via email.

If our project is selected, what are the next steps?

Successful applicants will be contacted directly and asked to complete a detailed submission. This would request granular detail about the proposed project, the schedule of work, detailed budget and timeline to help Commissioners understand how it could help meet The Big Idea Fund Mission. Further guidance will be offered to applicants that make it into this second stage.

When will the winners be announced?

The final selected projects will be announced at a City & Guilds Foundation event in central London on 21st April 2020. Exact times to be confirmed. Recipients will be informed in advance and a senior representative of shortlisted applications would be expected to attend this event.

How much can I ask for?

Commissioners have not set a specific threshold for the scale of individual or joint applications. The overall allocated budget is £1.0 million and it is projected that The Big Idea Fund would only look to award a small number of high conviction grants of varying financial scale.

Should I ask for a specific amount?

Yes, all applicants should provide an initial overview of the projected costs at the expression of interest phase. A detailed budget will be required for successful applicants that are invited through to the second stage of the process.

How much might I be awarded?

Commissioners might recommend to fund all or part of any application. If part funding is considered, then this would be discussed in full with the applicant to understand the potential implication to the proposed project.

I will need support from another type of organisation to help make my Big Idea work. Can you help connect me through the City & Guilds network?

We are keen to help build relationships to help collaborative activity to happen. If you complete an Expression of Interest form and outline the additional areas of support you are looking for, we can take this into consideration when allocating funding and potentially connect organisations with a similar vision.

Commissioners are specifically interested in projects that engage the rural economy and land-based sector, how is this defined?

Yes, Commissioners are particularly interested to receive applications from applicants seeking to innovate in the rural economy or though developing skills pathways that might help The Big Idea Fund achieve its stated mission through land-based interventions. The term ‘land based’ traditionally relates to farming and industries connected to the land and environment. However, land-based careers are diverse and use a number of different skills, especially as the sector evolves. Innovation in the land-based sector or rural economy does not necessarily mean your organisation is based in the countryside or is about agricultural skills.

Why do you have a two-stage application process?

The process has been designed to help save applicants time through initial screening to ensure a small number of organisations are invited to develop an extensive stage 2 application. This is intended to help ensure only eligible organisations are invited to stage 2 and overall the process is as efficient as possible. Note – being invited to make a second stage application does not necessarily mean your organisation will gain funding.

The City & Guilds Group reserves the right to exclude any application that it deems outside its criteria. Funding will be subject to The City and Guilds of London Institute’s discretion and the successful applicant entering into a separate contract with The City and Guilds of London Institute on completion of the application and due diligence process.

City & Guilds Group’s Rights

City & Guilds Group reserves the right to:

  1. waive or change the requirements of The Big Fund from time to time without prior notice;
  2. withdraw The Big Fund at any time, or re-invite applications on the same or any alternative basis; and
  3. choose not to award funding as a result of the application process.

Applicant costs

The City & Guilds Group will not in any circumstances be liable for any costs, expenditure, work or effort incurred by an applicant in applying to The Big Fund.

Data Protection

The personal data of applicants (and any other personal data contained in an application) will be managed by the City & Guilds Group in accordance with the EU General Data Protection Regulation and Data Protection Act 2018. The City & Guilds Group will collect personal data at the time of submission of each application, and as is otherwise necessary in order to administer The Big Fund and all associated activities. By submitting an Expression of Interest you agree that any personal data provided by you to the Commission may be held and used by the Commission and its agents to administer The Big Fund. Applicants may contact the City & Guilds Group at any time to update their details and/or preferences regarding the use of personal data.


While the information contained on this website is believed to be correct at the time of issue, City & Guilds Group accepts no liability in any circumstances for its accuracy, adequacy or completeness, nor is any express or implied warranty given. No representations or warranties are made in relation to these statements, opinions or conclusions.

Insofar as is permitted by law, the City & Guilds Group and its agents accept no responsibility for any damage, loss, liabilities, injury or disappointment incurred or suffered as a result of submitting an application to the Fund.

The City and Guilds Institute of London is a registered charity in England and Wales (312832).

Applications are currently closed

Thank you to all of the organisations who submitted expressions of interest and who applied for The Big Idea Fund.

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