Nobody ever changed anything without optimism, and it is with this spirit (plus a good dose of Blue Sky’s particular humour) that we start the Spring season and a new financial year.
Reflecting back on the last 12 months, I wanted to thank you, our Friends, Supporters and Colleagues, for your continued belief in our beneficiaries and in givng them a second chance. Despite this being our most challenging year for recruitment, we will have exceeded our targets both in job starts for ex-offenders but also for our newest venture of training serving prisoners. And we have expanded our commercial client base.
This is a significant achievement, against a backdrop of challenges with Transforming Rehabilitation, continued austerity cuts and dramatic changes to employment status. I have always said that Blue Sky’s work is a bellwether of the economy and government policy, and no more have we felt that than during 16 /17.
But Blue Sky’s dogged determination and enterprising spirit never ceases to prevail. Despite the well-documented challenges inside prison, we have been determined to take our service through the gate and offer hope, an opportunity to change, and peer-led support behind the prison walls. As a reflection, 18 months ago we weren’t an accredited trainer and were working in just 2 prisons. Today we are operating in seven prisons across the prison estate and targeting more in 17 / 18.
To give a flavour to the state and pace of change within the criminal justice sector, the Ministry of Justice is working on no less than 9 strategies around offender management: Employment, Education, Substance Misuse, Housing, Women, Staff Corruption, Staff Capability to name a few – whilst introducing governor accountability for education, employment and health (the Prison Reforms) alongside a prison estate review. On a basic level this could mean prisons closing or re-rolling to different categories, a change in governors, different paymasters for Blue Sky, and changes to how the probation services operate once people have been released.
These changes in welfare to work and justice demonstrate what Blue Sky has known from its inception: a one-size fits all approach doesn’t work and that understanding people’s specific needs, and the trust they put in organisations like Blue Sky, is how real sustainable change happens; and that a ‘work-first approach’ is a big incentive for people to change their lives for the better, simply because it quickly helps normalise people’s lives and gives them a means to connect to the outside world.
When I think of the severe social isolation articulated by some of our employees in the early weeks with us, the power of simply having a job feels incredibly real. In the words of one of our beneficiaries:
“Blue Sky gives us the confidence that we can make it.”