Harnessing untapped potential in Holloway
Brendan is our Team Leader in St Giles Trust North London. Supported by The Big Lottery Fund, the team help our clients secure employment. Here he explains the hurdles he helps his clients overcome and why a job can be life-changing for them.
“As you dread your Monday morning return to work, I would invite you to put yourself in the place of someone who has applied and been rejected for over 50 jobs in the past year. Imagine feeling locked out of the possibility of ever gaining the independence, identity and self-sufficiency that a job can bring.
We work with people who feel this every day. They are ex-offenders looking for work. Doors have been slammed in their faces at every opportunity for change they have tried to grasp. My job is to show that is possible to open these doors when you are looking for work with a criminal record.
Employment is one of the most protective factors against re-offending and two thirds of people leaving prison say that having a job is key to stopping them returning to crime. However, people with criminal convictions face a lot of prejudice, suspicion and discrimination when they declare it to a potential employer. A downward spiral sets in as persistent rejections damage a person’s confidence and increase their reliance on an unreliable welfare state. Little wonder that some will think they are better off returning to crime. At least it can put food on the table when a delayed benefit payment will mean your family will go hungry.
Here is where we come in. At St Giles Trust in Holloway, we offer people from across north and east London who are often at the end of the road a patient and caring service which will help them towards their ultimate goal of getting a job. Last year, out of the 257 people we helped 95 of them successfully got a job and the rest are well on the way to securing one.
There are many hurdles we need to help them overcome before we can reach this stage. Drug problems, homelessness, low skills, mental health issues and debts need to be tackled before a person is ready to realistically think about joining the daily grind. But this is the beauty of what we do here at St Giles Trust – we will work with people at their pace and give them the patient, persistent, friendly help they need until they are at a more resilient stage in their lives.
Quite frankly, this can sometimes mean being on their case and saying ‘You can do it!’ to the answer ‘Why I am I bothering?’ It can mean reassuring them that no hurdle is so big it can’t be overcome somehow. We know – we are a team who are mainly ex-offenders ourselves. We understand just how impossible it can seem if you have the label ‘criminal record’ hanging over your head when in front of a potential employer who cannot see beyond stereotypes.
This is hard work as some people have been so excluded they have retreated into a closed shell. Encouragement, empathy and belief in their ability to develop their skills will help them come out of it. It takes a lot of hours to untangle the maze of problems going on in complex lives.
Further training is vital for many of our clients as they missed out at school, didn’t have the chance to build their skills and certainly have no bank of mum and dad to help them do the courses they need. Working in construction is extremely popular and people need the right qualifications to do it but we always struggle to find somewhere to pay for them.
This is rewarding work for me and the team. We are highly committed and pride ourselves on not turning anyone away. But it can be frustrating too. Society seems to be rigged against letting some of the most disadvantaged people in it achieve their dream of a job and a normal life. Employers, colleges and course providers can all discriminate against them. On behalf of my team and clients, I’d like to say a huge, huge thank you to those who don’t as you are doing one of the most decent, socially responsible things you can do.
Each person we support is an individual with huge potential and a great deal to contribute. They would love to have the misery of a Monday morning return to work. It gives them a chance to feel part of the society that they felt locked out of for so long and finally see a vision of their future which does not mean the inside of a prison cell.”
St Giles Trust, North London