On the 30th January 2019 I spoke for the Academy for Social Justice Commissioning and I am still coming down from the buzz of speaking in front of such an engaging and influential audience.
The event was filled with old friends, a positive vibe, and so much hope for the future.
One of my favourite moments had to be seeing the same job centre work coach who spent so much time and effort on me when I was in HMP Wealstun to help me develop the Offploy strategy.
I have only seen her twice since my release and every time we have so many positive memories of my imprisonment (odd, right?) and every time I see her, our little organization has changed so much that it is hard to update her on everything in one sitting. The right support from people in prison can really make or break a sentence.
The audience had a wide range of attendees. In attendance were the Ministry of Justice commissioning team, Clinks, similar organisations to Offploy, rehabilitation providers, probation officers and some of my oldest friends from primary school. I cannot describe how nervous I was before the event, I even added parts to my speech just minutes before going live!
However, once I started talking, all the nerves; the fear of talking in front of so many people; saying something stupid or just falling over just went away.
A team effort
I used the talk as an opportunity to openly share Offploy’s structure, how we’ve grown over the last few months from a team of four to fourteen, recommendations to other providers and offer advice to commissioners.
I am sure if it was just me talking for the hour, hammering on about our growth strategy and inner-workings people would have been asleep by the end. So, I invite three amazing individuals from our team to join me on the stage at various points to discuss their specialist areas of development.
First up was our Social Business Development Lead, Richard Strauss. Richard said that before he went to prison the idea of presenting to a room full of people used to make him physically sick. However, after you run an induction group every day in a prison to a room of 12 people in for offences from gang violence to murder it puts speaking to an audience in the community in to perspective!
Throughout his talk he shared how we approach commissioners, and how ‘the voluntary sector does not have a divine right to be commissioned’ – instead we need to be led by what is being commissioned and see how our service (or part of it) can fit with that contract. We also think more work could be done with commissioners to procure services from the voluntary sector. In response to a question around this, my advice to commissioners was ‘to tell us what you need, not what you want us to do!’ a good example in this would be by how many percentage points we want to reduce reconviction rates rather than by how many people with convictions need to be in employment.
A new definition of social impact
Tim, our social policy and research officer, then took centre stage to share our commitment to research and transparency. I was quite excited to see him announce our ‘Open Source’ social impact methodology. This is where we will share our social impact on a regular basis. but only work this out based on our very public social impact formula which we are inviting our sector to scrutinise, suggest improvements for and alter in the interest of creating one social impact methodology for all providers in our sector to use. This will help commission services that offer good value for money, improve the performance of the sector and create true collaboration in an often very competitive arena.
Tim’s biggest focus was around our transparency as an organization and how we will be conducting academic research in partnership with some great universities and publishing the results regardless of a positive or negative outcome. How can we learn if we only publish what we have done well?
Finally, I introduced and interviewed what would turn out to be the star of the show. Derek Gates, one of our Social Employment Advisors (peer mentors). He really did steal the show sharing his journey from working at sea for 10 years, slipping into drug addiction, then criminal activity and then multiple prison sentences before joining our team.
We interviewed Derek before the show who has a bit of a sense of humour – thankfully his ex-wife wasn’t at the event!
At the event, Derek shared how having employment has now helped him get a car, a place of his own, reconcile with his ex-wife and regularly see his children again. His journey of transformation has been phenomenal and he received a real round of applause and many people approaching him after then event to speak at their events. We might have to get him an agent before we know it!
I wrapped up the talk by making three requests to the public sector:
Recruit more people with lived experience!
We employ a lot of people like Derek who have a profound effect on their peers who aren’t as far along on their journey to employment. Derek engages candidates, has honest conversations and sees them coming back time and time again for his support before securing employment. The public sector could do more of this in the police service, probation, prisons and job centres.
Provide more support to employers looking to hire people with criminal convictions
Employers need to recruit from a diverse talent pool in order to fill the chronic skills gap. I am excited to see HMPPS have taken a step in the right direction by forming a dedicated employer support service for the prisons called the ‘New Futures Network’. How about we get something like this going for the probation service too? After all, they do represent a larger cohort of people with criminal convictions who are readily available to start employment.
Let’s start giving people the right opportunities
This was a bit of a mushy point about how one guy, our Chairman, Nigel Stabler, gave me the right opportunity to start Offploy Community Interest Company and we now in turn have passed that opportunity onto members of our team who then pass this onto the candidates we support every day.
I suppose my point was for all of society and how we all have the opportunity to give that one person in need that lucky break. I know I will always be grateful for mine, and Derek for his.
A copy of the slides can be found here: https://speakerdeck.com/offployjacob/the-road-to-rehabilitation
You can watch the talk via our Twitter here: