A new campaign is tackling stigma head on, says Asi Panditharatna. Read the full article in DDN Magazine
‘We believe everyone has the ability to turn
their life around, if given the chance.’
More Than My Past is a national campaign, launched by The Forward Trust, to challenge the stigma that prevents people with difficult pasts reaching their full potential. It shows that ex-offenders and people in recovery from addiction not only want to change and succeed – they can and do.
The campaign website and social media share stories of people from all walks of life who have successfully confronted their problems and moved on to prosper in their personal and professional lives. Through sharing personal accounts of overcoming addiction and offending, they are calling on the government, employers and general public to share a belief in people’s capacity for recovery and rehabilitation. They want us to celebrate their stories of achievement over adversity while taking action to support this agenda.
Forward are also supported in the campaign by a number of employers who believe in giving people another chance as a potential new pool of talent in these challenging times.
A hidden workforce
The campaign aims to demonstrate to employers that individuals who have successfully recovered from addiction or who are rehabilitated ex-offenders are a worthy investment, if given the opportunity to prove themselves. Among the key facts it has highlighted:
• Ex-offenders and people in recovery are the two groups that organisations are least likely to employ; one in four people in recovery have been turned down for jobs three times or more when disclosing their past (Bridging the gaps, The Forward Trust, 2017).
• Seventy-five per cent of prisoners have no job on release even though having a job is the single biggest factor in reducing re-offending; 15 per cent of prisoners have never worked legally, and 47 per cent of prisoners have no qualifications.
• Those in recovery from addiction who are employed are 22 per cent more likely to be abstinent than those who are not, and having a job more than doubles the length of abstinence.
Meanwhile, with Brexit looming, evidence shows that employers may need to seek out new pools of talent to be able to meet their requirements. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 70 per cent of employers with vacancies said that at least some of those were proving hard to fill in autumn 2018, compared to 51 per cent in spring 2017.
Some employers are already embracing the opportunity to work with this group of people, and know how rewarding it can be for both the business and the individuals. Catering company and food retailer Cook, leading retail service provider Timpson and transport social enterprise HCT Group are among those backing this new campaign.
‘HCT Group believes that someone’s history shouldn’t define them,’ said Dai Powell, HCT Group’s chief executive. ‘We’re proud to support the More Than My Past campaign as we believe in the potential of people whose past may not have been perfect. So many individuals still face too many barriers to employment due to a criminal past. But if they are given a chance they can – and do – turn their lives around to become valuable members of society.’
See the transformational change that ex-offenders and people in recovery can achieve at www.morethanmypast.org.uk and by joining the conversation on social media:
Share our belief!
‘Forward has been supporting people with criminal backgrounds or drug and alcohol problems to turn their lives around for over 25 years,’ says Forward Trust CEO Mike Trace. We know that if we show a belief in their ability to make a positive change, and give them the opportunity to prove themselves, they can do amazing things.
We back up this belief by aiming to have a high proportion of all our staff, apprentices and volunteers with ‘lived experience’ – either a history of drug/alcohol problems, or of offending. Currently, a third of our 400 salaried staff, all of our 20 apprentices, and 80 per cent of our 150 volunteers, report that they are in one of these categories.
We want the general public and employers to share our belief in this untapped potential and do something to support people to be more than their past.
‘Things are so different now…’
Andy, one of the many inspiring participants of the campaign, tells his story
It started how it does for so many: I was a social drinker. Like a lot of people, I started drinking in my mid to late teens, but it started to escalate in my early twenties. Then I started to get into drugs as well and things just spiralled out of control from there. I lost relationships and jobs because of my drinking and using. Soon I felt like I’d given up and my addiction became even more entrenched. I started committing crime and was in and out of court all the time.
I first went to rehab in 2003. I stayed completely sober for three months, but deep down I didn’t think I had a problem with drink. When I moved into my own place, I struggled to pay my bills and I soon turned back to drink, which led back to drugs. Although I was in a better place, doing my best to look after myself for the next few years, I couldn’t let go of drugs and alcohol altogether. In 2015, I moved from Sheffield down to my mum’s house in Surrey, where I was still drinking and using. She tried to help but I still wasn’t ready to change.
The grief of my dad dying in October that year made my addiction worse. I just couldn’t put drugs and alcohol down and things were getting steadily worse. Then I had one of those life-changing conversations with a friend and something inside me clicked – I knew I needed to get sober. That was in February 2016, and I haven’t touched a drug or a drink since.
Around the same time, I was introduced to Transform Housing and Support, who supported me into one of their dry houses (supported accommodation where residents must remain free from drugs and alcohol). With the support of a friend I made in the Transform house, I learned to cook and look after myself.
A month after I got sober, I started volunteering and attending fellowship meetings. I’ve found this has been so helpful to my recovery – giving me a structure and a purpose to my life. Since I found recovery, I’ve got back into things I used to like but hadn’t really had the time for – like fishing and cycling. I loved fishing as a child but in active addiction, it just fell away. Now I go whenever I can – either with a friend or by myself – it’s a really great way to have some quality thinking time.
In 2017, a friend introduced me to The Forward Trust. They supported me to start a level 2 qualification in peer mentoring and also ‘meet and greet’ training. I now do meet and greets for them – meeting a Forward prison client at the gate on the day of their release and supporting them with things like appointments and getting to rehab or supported accommodation.
I also volunteer in a charity shop and cheered on Forward fundraisers at the London to Brighton bike ride. It was such a great day and I felt really proud to be involved in the charity – plus I love cycling!
It took me a long time to get where I am today, but I’ve worked hard and things are so different now. I cycle every day, even when it’s raining cats and dogs! Once I’m on the bike, it’s like a form of meditation for me and really helps me to switch off. I’m giving back to a great organisation, learning new skills and I’m hoping to apply to do Forward’s apprenticeship scheme soon.
My mum is so proud of me and how far I’ve come, and I’m proud of me too. I’m living proof that people can change their circumstances.