POSITIVE ENGAGEMENT Timpson, which has over 2,000 outlets in Britain and Ireland, works with the rehabilitation of inmates in 70 prisons.
Ex-prisoner employment programme shows the power of trust and hope
Fr Kevin Hegarty
Timpson is a British multinational company that specialises in shoe repairs, dry cleaning, photo processing, key cutting, locksmithing and engraving services. It also offers a repair service for mobile phones, jewellery and watches. Its headquarters are in Manchester and it has well over 2,000 outlets in Britain and Ireland.
Nothing unusual there, you might say, just a list of statistics about a middle-ranking business. What makes the company different is that it has a policy of employing former prisoners. A full 10 percent of its employees have served time.
In 2018, the company spent £692,000 (Sterling) on mentoring, recruiting and training ex-offenders. Also a number of its shops are operated by prisoners still serving their sentences, under day-release schemes. Its preference is to employ those who are in their mid-20s and upwards who have got to the stage where ‘they want to get a job and be normal and stop the chaos’.
About one in ten of those interviewed are chosen for appointment. Sex offenders are not recruited, as they are too great a risk for a company serving the public. There have been failures where people have proven unsuitable and/or reverted to crime. But overall the policy has been a success. One ex-prisoner commented, “Timpsons did me a great favour and I would never do anything to upset them.”
James Timpson, the chief executive of the company, explained the strategy: “We look for staff everywhere but a lot of people who have been in prison are desperate for an opportunity and we find that they make great colleagues.”
His parents had fostered the children of prisoners, and it stimulated an interest in him that has shaped his adult life. Seventeen years ago, he visited Thorncross jail in Warrington. He was shown around by a young inmate, Mathew, whom he found impressive. He promised him a job on his release. Mathew took up the offer and has prospered with the company.
From this generous gesture has sprung a policy of positive engagement with prisons. This initial success encouraged Timpson to visit several jails to interview prospective employees. Today the company works with the rehabilitation of inmates in 70 prisons.
Among those who have benefitted from the rehabilitation process are Russell Zecanovsky, Jack Twigg and Sarah Barker. Zecanovsky now runs the Timpson shop at Wimbledon station in London. Imprisoned three times, his last conviction for growing cannabis earned him a 30-month sentence at Wandsworth prison.
Interviewed about his experience he said: “I’d been to prison three times before I joined Timpson, and I had no rehabilitation at all really. With Timpsons, they are giving you a career. If I had just come out again I would probably have fallen back into the same routine.
“You go to job interviews and they ask if you’ve got a criminal conviction, and if you say yes you’re immediately at the bottom of the pile. There’s no rehabilitation for prisoners outside prison apart from companies like Timpson that are prepared to give you the chance.”
Jack Twigg’s life fell apart in 2016. A trainee prison officer, he actually became a prisoner himself. Finding work difficult, he began to drink heavily. Involved in a car accident that caused serious injury, he was charged and convicted of dangerous driving. On his release from prison he found it difficult to get work:
“I started applying for jobs, but I kept getting knocked down. It went on for a year. I submitted almost two hundred applications. I just took a punt with Timpson. I emailed the boss James Timpson and told him about my struggles. Within a day I received an email saying James had read my email, and they put me in touch with my local store.
“Last October I started as a trainee. I grabbed it with both hands, and I really dedicated myself to it. I ended up covering my manager and then two other shops. I told them I was really interested in running my own shop and I can’t believe it has happened.” Yesterday (Monday, April 12) he began his new role.
Manchester woman Sarah Barker served two years in jail for violent assault. Life for her had been difficult. Her mother died when she was 15 and she had been placed in care. She got the opportunity to work in a Timpson photo-processing shop. She now works cutting keys and mending shoes and watches at a shop in her native city. Without Timpsons, she dreads where she might be today. The company provided counselling for her and gave her a loan and a deposit on a flat.
The poet Philip Larkin wrote once about how difficult it is to recover from an unfortunate start in life. The Timpsons prove it is possible. In this Easter season, their programme of employing ex-prisoners radiates redemption and hope.