We spoke to the Director of MyOptions Limited, who help offenders into employment.
I am the Director of MyOptions limited, which I started up in October 2012. We have an office in Kennington. I developed the company from scratch, at first I didn’t know what I was doing but we have managed to do some good work.
There are a few aspects to our work; I provide training programmes for example, I conduct one day workshops with NCS advisors talking to them about how to deal with offenders and things like that.
We also have a FSF (Flexible Support Fund) contact with the job centre, we also do workshops for them with prisoners who are about to be released into custody to help get them into employment. In other cases I have been working directly with employers as I have a few contacts in the construction industry, and personally with Sainsbury’s. Also personally I do some consultant work on programmes like the fairer chance programme helping offenders, NOMs is the delivery partner managing the project.
I was previously working as a Careers Advisor with Prospects and have built up these connections. We held a big event yesterday at Isis; there were 25 employers there including TFL, Sainsbury’s, Cleshar (who work with TFL). That was with Prospects, the governors seemed really happy with the event and were talking about making it more regular, monthly, and also how it could be rolled out in other places namely Category C and D prisons. I am also giving careers advice to those who need it on a daily basis. I work with all nine London prisons mainly working to ensure that the transition for offenders is easier. I work closely with people who are coming out in Wandsworth, Brixton and Isis.
I am essentially looking for commitment from people; I am not going to be chasing people. I usually give them my mobile number and tell them to contact me and it is up to them if they want to engage. Independence is the main thing I hope to achieve with clients — helping them get off benefits and into working and leading a normal life, but they need to make that decision for themselves.
Once they do, I can try and help them, put them in touch with people. I have good knowledge now of funding streams and can get support for housing, travel, interviews. For some of the guys coming out of prison they are living on £72 a week, so they have to make sacrifices, they need to be willing and motivated.
When I was working at Prospects there was some office space that was not being used so I convinced my employers to let me set up and run a project there to help ex-offenders. When Prospects decided to move offices they asked if I wanted to move with them to Bromley or if not they could help me move into working out of the job centre.
I’ve always been happy to work with ex-offenders. One of the guys had been working with Timpsons but came to me and said that he wanted to work with me as he wanted to help people. There was a woman too who was inside for fraud and lost everything, her kids, her house. She started off as a volunteer and is now a paid member of staff working with us 3 days a week; she does 15 hours (5 hours a day, so she can go pick up her kids).
I also work with Change Up, run by Kate Ruby, a Fundraiser for Clinks, and helped them to fund the Clinks restaurant. She helps to provide offices to people, where we are there is 10 offices, who are all doing the same sort of work, delivering community projects.
Being able to help people, over the years I have knowledge built up and can provide something that Job Centre Advisors can’t do. They have their own remits and targets. Whereas I can give them what they want and give people a good service so they know they can do something with their lives.
I support clients with whatever they need, at Prospects we did 1:1 and had to document everything it was all regimented, now I think we don’t need to document that, we haven’t got a huge team, often issues can be resolved over the phone. They are also welcome to come into the office, we also offer weekly job clubs, in some cases it can be months or a matter of weeks, we also have some people who have found work and for some reason may have lost it so they get back in contact.
Some clients don’t like the way they are treated in job centres, it’s the authority with someone sitting behind the desk telling you what to do, whereas I can say I was you, I tell them about my past, and that breaks the barrier straight away. They always say I couldn’t tell that you were in the system. Then they tell me what they want to do, what they have done and it’s easier to get the truth out of them. Some tell me that they are still dabbling in small crime and I work with them stop, help them sort out their CV.
We are doing fantastic work but sometimes the system is not geared for that. Probation officers can be difficult, housing is also an issue, and sorting out benefits can take a few weeks, and the £47 that you get isn’t enough which means some people end up going straight back into crime. In the last 5 months I saw 50 people, over the last couple of years my conservative estimate is that we have seen 200 people. Of the 200 I would say 125 were in continued engagement/active clients, 25 were in work, 25 were on a training courses and 25 were still making progress and were active clients or in voluntary work or some other work. In an ideal situation they don’t need my help, they are willing to work with me, and are emailing me. I always tell them “you have to do stuff for yourself, learn how to do this stuff yourself, when you do it you will master the process and don’t need to be reliant on me or anyone else”.
Community Advisors tend to do well and we are always networking. We all know each other across South London, at yesterday’s event 70 percent of the advisors we knew. I would say what we do, it works, it’s not fantastic but we can help and make a difference. I am hoping to develop a training centre soon with all sorts of courses. I think from what I’ve seen, I’d say to prison advisors to try and make the transition process smoother.