“One thing I learned in prison was gratitude.” Jacob Hill.
We know we don’t look a day over four-years-old, but June marks Offploy’s fifth birthday – and we’re celebrating in style! While we were unable to organise a big face-to-face celebration, the power of Zoom enabled us to welcome 50+ guests to a virtual birthday party – and what a line-up it was.
Speakers from the Department of Work and Pensions, National Probation Service, The Pocressi Initiative and former Justice Secretary Rt Hon David Gauke joined the entire Offploy team, along with a selection of our candidate success stories, for a two-hour get-together.
Hosted by Sunil Suri, Offploy founder Jacob Hill began proceedings with a recap of the past five years – which you’re all hopefully well up to speed with by now – as well as a sneaky look at what’s to come. In case you couldn’t join us, here are some of the ‘best bits’….
David Gauke (Offploy’s patron)
We were delighted to welcome the Rt Hon David Gauke, former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice – and Offploy’s first patron – as our first guest speaker. During his time with the Department of Work and Pensions, David spent much of his time trying to help people into work and was introduced to Jacob during a political tour of Yorkshire three years ago. The rest, as they say, is history.
“That first encounter with Jacob was undoubtedly one of the most invigorating and inspiring meetings of my time in office,” explained David. “He is an energetic advocate for rehabilitation and helping others to turn their lives around.”
Following their meeting, Jacob was invited to introduce David at the Conservative Party Conference in 2019, sharing his story with the delegates in a bid to drive ex-offender employment support further up the political agenda.
“Work not only creates structure but gives people a stake in society – and it’s a sentiment that transcends political alliances,” continued David. “If we, as a society, can give those with convictions a route out of criminality, poverty, and destitution – we can help them to stand on their own two feet.
“Transforming lives is what Offploy is all about, and I’m deeply honoured in supporting this organisation. What a five years it’s been, and knowing the ambition for the next five, it looks as though 2026’s celebrations will be even bigger.”
- David Gauke, Offploy patron and former Justice Secretary Rt.
Lily Lewis (The Pocressi Initiative)
Next up, our very own Richard Struss joined one of our funders, Lily Lewis – founder and CEO of The Pocressi Initiative – to take a closer look at the importance of social investment from the position of the grant maker and recipients.
The Pocressi Initiative is a philanthropic grant-giving platform that works in the prevention and rehabilitation of Abstinence Addiction Treatment and Criminal Justice through a trauma-informed and racial equity lens. Its backing is invaluable to Offploy, as Richard explained: “This support helped us to bring on board our director of service, Emily in a role which can be measured and reported on.
“Not only that, but we’ve been able to develop a CRM system which provides incredible, quantitative data which can be used in our own analysis – including information around the number of people helped and hours of support given.”
The National Probation Service (NPS) team
Taking a closer look at the importance of education, training, and employment within the Criminal Justice System, Liz Mills, Head of Sheffield and Barnsley NPS, shared the importance of having clear steps around the pathway to support, alongside ‘lived experience’ of rehabilitation into society – something her colleague, Neil Weatherstone agreed with.
“The enthusiasm that Jacob (Hill, Offploy founder)has is infectious and his passion is there for all to see. But I have been so impressed with how the organisation has established a real presence since the company was founded.”
- Neil Weatherstone, NPS.
Dave Ennis, senior specialist employment advisor at Offploy, believes the future looks bright for ex-offender employment, as the attitudes towards hiring those with convictions continues to change – opening a multitude of positions and opportunities.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)
We were joined by Julie Abbott, DWP senior national account manager, and Emily Hornby, a prison work coach based at JobCentre Plus in Hull who both spoke about some of the biggest challenges facing prison-leavers – including the lack of candidate opportunities and their poor levels of confidence.
Rik Wills, senior social employment advisor at Offploy, asked if there had been a change in hiring attitudes when it comes to ex-offender employment, to which Julie replied: “We work with employers on a national level to support those with criminal convictions into work. Of course, there are some organisations which may feel reluctant, but usually it’s through fear, or a lack of awareness around the legal side of such a recruit.
“Most employers want to find the right person for the job, and when you explain there are 12 million people in the UK with a conviction, it’s easy to see how you might be doing yourself a disservice by overlooking such talent.”
The awards ceremony
We closed the birthday celebrations with a quick awards ceremony, to shine a light on the people who have made what has been the hardest 12 months of Offploy’s existence, possible.
DWP Work Coach of the Year.
First up, was the prize for DWP Work Coach of the Year. Building strong relationships with our candidates is key for our work coach partners, and there was no better winner than Maxine Brazer! “I’m overwhelmed!” said Maxine. “My role is not only about helping people who have been in prison, but anyone who is being held back by a conviction – be it spent or unspent – and providing them with access to the right opportunities. Thank you."
Probation Officer of the Year (North East)
Probation Officer of the Year (North East) was awarded to Michael O’Reilly. Although he was unable to join the event, the reason for his win was clear – as Michael’s referrals are second-to-none. He ensures candidates have a wealth of support to help them into work, and we know that when his name comes up, the candidate will be ‘job-ready’.
Dawn Timmings Award for the Probation Officer of the Year
Our newly-introduced Dawn Timmings Award for the Probation Officer of the Year, named in the honour of our treasured friend Dawn, went the way of Terry Franks. Having referred many candidates to Offploy, Terry considers the individual, their needs, and how we might be able to support them on their way to employment. All candidates speak incredibly highly of Terry, and she is a deserving winner.
Candidate of the Year
While every single candidate was more than deserving of our final prize for Candidate of the Year award, the gong went the way of Dale. His tenacity is nothing short of inspiring, and he’s already achieved one of his personal goals – to save up for a car.
Having the audience in tears during his acceptance speech, Dale is the perfect example of why Offploy exists, and we’re humbled to be a part of his journey. What a way to end the day! As we lifted a glass to Dale, and ‘cheered’ a job well done, Jacob left us with a final thought…
“I hope we continue to be a country which leads the way with ex-offender employment – and that Offploy shares our mission across the globe. I genuinely hope there is a time when we are no longer needed, because that would be when society no longer sees a conviction as a barrier to employment.”