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“Working for Rehabilitation” : Darren Burns

Darren is the Director of Diversity & Inclusion for the Timpson Group and Head of the Timpson Foundation, he spoke to York Rotary on Friday 10th November. His team recruit, train and support staff; in particular he came to explain how they take on ex-offenders, called Foundation employees.

The company has 5,000 staff in 2,500 outlets, dealing with shoe repairs, key cutting, watch repairs, telephone repairs and photographs. Over the years, Timpson’s have absorbed Mr Minute, Super Snaps, Johnson’s and others – and are now both on the high street and in supermarkets. They have come a long way from the first Manchester-based shoe store in 1865 but are still family-owned.

The current boss is James Timpson and it was he who, on visiting Thorncross Prison in 2002, identified the need for ex-offenders to be given opportunities for a second chance in life and saw potential for the company too. So began a fresh approach to some recruitment (through the Timpson Foundation) so that 12% of the current workforce is made up of ex-offenders (Foundation employees) and the company is recognised for its altruism and commitment, recently advising other big companies on how to go about this ground-breaking approach.

Why do they do it? Timpson has always had a social conscience. Reoffending costs the taxpayer £18 billion per year and the rate is cut dramatically if ex-prisoners can find work and thus a place in society. It’s a win-win. The approach is also good for business as people understand and want to support those who wish to make a new life for themselves and their families.

How do they do it? All prisoners are considered except arsonists, sex offenders and terrorists. Even a drug dealer has transferable skills!! There are several ways in which recruitment is done.

ROTL – Release on Temporary Licence, where Darren and his team identify a local need for staff and visit the nearby prison to offer the opportunity to work-ready prisoners. Those chosen are allowed out on day release for 2 years and learn in a safe environment with training and support. On release, they are work-ready.

Prison Training Academy. Workers are trained inside the prisons and on release are work-ready.

Interviews. Sometimes prisoners on short-term sentences are identified as having potential and are met on release and supported. It seems that many women take this route to employment.

Referrals. Third sector organisations make an approach to Timpson on behalf of those they are supporting. Timpson can promise and interview but not a job.

Employment Advisory Boards. These Government-run groups are pushing for second-chance employment and recognise Timpson’s capability.

Once employed by Timpson, workers rise to Level 1 after 12 weeks and Level 2 after 12 months. In that time, they have targeted training and support. Timpson provides extra support with housing, benefit applications, mental health and other matters which assist the ex-offender to integrate back into society and build mutual trust and respect. They are rightly proud of the fact that only 2% reoffend.

It was excellent to hear of such a successful and positive approach as a conclusion to our somewhat depressing “crime and punishment” season. Despite a journey on the M62 from Liverpool, missing lunch and having to go straight to the podium, Darren gave a superb presentation. His commitment and leadership shone through – and we were very fortunate to share some of his time and energy. Wow!

Eileen Davis


York Rotary News

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