Building Better Lives
For many ex-offenders, leaving the prison doors behind opens up a whole new set of problems. A criminal record has always been a serious barrier to even getting an interview, let alone securing a position. And with little chance of employment, the temptation to return to crime can be too strong to resist. But a social enterprise with a pioneering approach is offering ex-offenders the opportunity to renovate derelict properties and in doing so gain the skills and experience they need to rebuild their lives.
Jimmy’s story is typical of many ex-offenders. Despite a determination to turn his life around and several qualifications gained while in prison, Jimmy’s many attempts to find employment fell at the first hurdle.
“I applied for over 100 jobs and got no interviews,” he says. “Then Bristol Together offered me a job and I haven’t looked back since.”
“We can help people leave their criminal past behind them, and develop their skills and employability.”
Paul Harrod, founder and CEO, Bristol Together
Jimmy’s one of the lucky ones. He was given a break by a new Community Interest Company which doesn’t just consider ex-offenders, but actively gives them the opportunity to find gainful employment and turn their lives around.
“The cost to the taxpayer of people reoffending is huge – but we have already proved that, given the right opportunity, we can help people leave their criminal past behind them, and develop their skills and employability. At the same time we are bringing empty property back into use,” says Bristol Together founder and CEO Paul Harrod.
Bristol Together takes run-down and derelict properties and, working in partnership with social enterprises Aspire and the Restore Trust, employs ex-offenders to repair and refurbish the empty properties.
“There’s a huge variety of work to do - from basic labouring to plastering, carpentry and tiling - but that means there’s every opportunity to learn,” says Harrod.
Once the houses are fit to be homes again, they’re sold with profits reinvested in more properties for renovation. The result is a virtuous circle with further employment opportunities and more properties brought back into use. A pilot scheme of two properties has proven the concept, and over five years they aim to work on 35-40 properties, offering skills and experience to 200 ex-offenders.
Self-sustaining social enterprise
“I believe there’s so much interest in Bristol Together because it’s a genuine social enterprise. We’re addressing an obvious social need and can do it on a self-sustaining basis. We’re not reliant on grant handouts,” explains Harrod.
“Buying and renovating a property is clearly not a new concept, but the way we’re doing it sets us apart from profit-motivated developers. What’s very noticeable is how engaged and motivated our workers are. By giving people a job they start to see a brighter future; a chance to rebuild their lives and leave their criminal records behind them. Crucially, they also get to feel that they’re part of something bigger – they’re not just cogs in the wheels.” Employment with Bristol Together is very much a means to an ends, and the goal of permanent employment elsewhere is fundamental to their approach.
“The true measure of our success will be how we help the workers move on,” says Harrod. “Some have a guaranteed interview with Carillion PLC – a major construction company – others may choose to go self-employed. They have already earned their spurs – they’ve worked hard and turned up on time. But ultimately we want them to move on so someone else can benefit from the experience.”
Project CV - Bristol Together
Bristol Together CIC is a partnership of social enterprises dedicated to creating full-time jobs for ex-offenders and other long-term unemployed people. Founder and CEO Paul Harrod worked with Triodos Investment Management UK to gain initial funding for the project, which was launched in October 2011.
Triodos worked with Bristol Together to secure £600,000 through an innovative bond issue. Our corporate finance team acted as lead advisors for the initial fundraising from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and a private individual.
"When you're trying to raise capital from charities and foundations you need a partner who can support your business plan and give you credibility, says Harrod. The social enterprise plans to raise an additional £1 million in a further fundraising during 2012. "There's such an obvious social need, which is a chronic problem and a huge cost to society," says Harrod. "This is an honest and innovative attempt to tackle it."
Words: Will Ferguson
Photography: James Barke