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Ex-offenders get lives back on track thanks to sergeant's 'innovative' vision

Lancashire officer set up social enterprise to help offenders look to the future

A sergeant who set up a business to help offenders turn their lives around says the project is “really working” and believes the model has scope to go even further.

Lancashire Police sergeant Steve Hodgkins set up community interest company Jobs, Friends and Houses just over a year ago in order to help ex-offenders focus on their futures, rather than the past.

“In my career, I have come across a lot of people in addiction, and what we are doing is moving them to recovery and sustaining them,” said the officer, who is currently on secondment from the force.

The company, known as JFH, is predominantly a building company – with all of the money made going back into the business to allow it to help more offenders.

“It is skilled employment, it is not making cups of tea. It is something they want to come to work for – plumbing, plastering, joinery, bricklaying – and as many people will know there is a lack of that type of skilled workforce in the country at the moment.

“We pay them the living wage £7.85 an hour so for someone who starts as an adult apprentice it works out as around £15,000 a year. It is important that is part of the offer.

“We have to make sure the work we do is high quality - because of who we are, people want to throw mud at us. We are not a cowboy building firm, we have got to be the best of the best and that is part of what we offer.”

As well as completing projects such as office renovations, the company buy properties which the ex-offenders work on while learning their trade, with many then going on to live in the homes.

“Another part of what we do is make sure they have stable accommodation to live in once being released from prison,” he said.

“We also make sure they have wellbeing and life skills – setting up an email account, getting a driving license, going to the dentist etc.”

He cited an example of an offender on the scheme who after becoming a heroin addict at 15, had been in and out of prison all of his life, but had recently been on his first ever holiday abroad and got his first every girlfriend.

“So far we are currently supporting 41 per cent prolific ex-offenders, and so far have a zero per cent re-lapse rate and a zero per cent re-offending rate.

“We are dealing with complex people here, not low-level offenders,” he said.

Sgt Hodgkins said the support from his force had been pivotal to the success of the project.

“Initially I did a lot of the work - research, writing bids and applications, setting it up as an enterprise, writing the business plan, networking and finding the right staff, understanding business - in my own time. But I always believed in the idea so I never resented doing it,” he said.

“There was a senior officer at Blackpool, acting superintendent Sam Mackenzie, who supported me and liked the idea. With his support, I was able to do more in work time and when I pitched the idea to our director of resources, Ian Cosh, he got it both professionally and personally.”

Just last week, JFH won the Most Inspiring category at the Be Inspired Business Awards (above), with Sgt Hodgkins saying he was “delighted” that the company had been recognised for its innovative approach.

“It has confirmed that our credentials as a business are right, and we feel there is a moral duty to take our model out to help even more people,” he said.

“The complexity and scale of the programme should not be underestimated, but it is worth all the effort, the hours, the labour, to be able to give people pride, skills, confidence and hope.”

First article image courtesy of David McCollom