Five years ago, James visited a prison near Warrington. Matthew, the prisoner who showed James around, kept to his script but couldn’t hide his sparky personality.
“Ring when you get out and I’ll find you a job,” said James. For the next six months, Matthew worked for us on day release. Today he is a successful branch manager.
He got us thinking. We established our Timpson Foundation to help more people like Matthew. We didn’t just give ex-offenders jobs, we provided the funds to set up home and get re-established in society.
Our disciple was Dennis – a kind, burly bloke from people support, a football referee and prison visitor. Dennis created links with 24 prisons, interviewed 100 prisoners and employed 24 (17 still work for us). We asked Dennis to be tough as well as kind – we only wanted superstars. From a prison population of 80,000, we could pick the cream of the crop.
For three years we kept things quiet, worried about what colleagues would think. Then a headline in The Sun revealed our secret: “Cons Taught To Cut Keys”. I responded in our weekly newsletter: “The Sun Won’t Stop Us”.
Everyone gave 100 per cent support. “Bill’s fantastic,” said one ex-offender’s manager. “Sue’s my best apprentice,” said another. “Can you find more where they came from?” asked an area manager.
To encourage other companies to follow suit, James organised a conference. In his opening remarks, prison minister David Hansen said: “Employment is the key to reduce reoffending.” And prison chaplain Robin Jenkin commented: “Prisoners reoffend because they get no support and no job.”
George, now a Timpson employee, moved the audience into emotional silence. “I’m not proud of what I did,” he said. “I was a furniture importer having a difficult time. I was offered £10,000 to bring a cocaine-filled suitcase from Grenada. I was arrested at Gatwick, got five years and lost my wife and family.
“Prison was hard, the violence and intimidation unbelievable. I had nothing to live for. I stuck to the rules, went to Blantyre House and was offered day release. I saw a notice about Timpson and applied for an interview. What would they think of a 50-year-old drug dealer”
“The following Monday, I started an apprenticeship in Tonbridge. My first task was to go to the bank with the weekend’s takings – £3,500. Timpson gave me a job, paid the deposit on a flat and furnished it. They simply put my life back on track.”
Ex-offenders like George turned our scheme into a success. But we learned some hard lessons. One guy, highly recommended by his governor, was due to join us a week after release but never arrived. Within three days, he reoffended.
It works better if prisoners start working during day release before they leave prison. One girl did well until her boyfriend forced her to sell drugs – she had renewed the relationship that caused the original offence. (We learned that help with rehousing can be vital.)
Another recruit was late and threw sickies. He had the wrong personality. He never should have passed his interview.
Don’t be fooled. This is a business decision that has brought us superstars more determined to succeed than almost any other recruits. Any qualms over the scheme were quashed when James planned a celebration party for successful managers in Las Vegas.
Three were refused entry to the States and that’s how we discovered they had a criminal record. It made us think – if every employee had a perfect past, we would have missed out on some of our most successful managers.
On January 5, we opened a training workshop inside Liverpool Jail. Our Timpson colleagues, Wayne and Steve, teach skills from shoe repairs to watch repairs (not key cutting!). We interview prisoners before they start and again when they are qualified.
James’s prison visit five years ago has created a fantastic way for us to recruit future stars.