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‘If I didn’t have that push I don’t know where I would be’ - Smile Organisation helps Norwich ex-offender back to work

PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 February 2016 | UPDATED: 09:59 24 February 2016

Ex-offender Aaron Crawford who found work with the help of Stacy Bradley, founder of The Smile Organisation. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Ex-offender Aaron Crawford who found work with the help of Stacy Bradley, founder of The Smile Organisation. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2016

For a young job-seeker with a criminal record, there can be serious obstacles in the way of finding work.

Ex-offender Aaron Crawford who found work with the help of Stacy Bradley, founder of The Smile Organisation. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYEx-offender Aaron Crawford who found work with the help of Stacy Bradley, founder of The Smile Organisation. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Often they may have no experience of full-time employment, few qualifications or lack confidence when it comes to making a good impression in a job interview.

A new Norfolk social enterprise, the Smile Organisation, has helped more than 25 ex-offenders find work experience, gain qualifications and apply for jobs.

It has just received a grant-funding boost, and now founder Stacy Bradley is calling on more employers to give support.

Miss Bradley, who founded the organisation after discovering a passion for helping ex-offenders, said: “The difference we are making to young lives is undoubtedly impressive, however we need more forward-thinking local companies to work with us to provide job shadowing, work experience and employment opportunities.”

Back on track

Three years ago, 24-year-old Aaron Crawford was handed a 32-month custodial sentence and found himself in prison.

After serving a year-and-a-half he left prison but was told he would never find a job due to his criminal conviction.

Stacy Bradley helped Mr Crawford, from Mile Cross, build up his CV with a Construction Skills Certificate Scheme card, health and safety certificates and secure work experience in a gym, which led to a job.

Now Mr Crawford is on a two-year apprenticeship scheme at a council.

“When I first came out of jail I went to the Job Centre and told them I wanted to work in a gym. They told me I wouldn’t get a job in a gym. But 10 months later I had a job in a gym.

“I didn’t have any qualifications. I met Stacy and she helped build my confidence.

“I really enjoy my job and like the people I work with. I like the thought of getting up early and having something to do all day.

“If I didn’t have that push I don’t know where I would be - probably doing the things I used to do.

“It stops my mum stressing out. I hope I’m setting an example for my younger brother.”

When Miss Bradley met Mr Crawford at a careers fair in prison, she said she knew he would be a success story.

“He had the right attitude and wanted to change,” she added. “There needed to be the right opportunities in place to help him.

“We get a lot of people with similar stories. Sometimes people that have never had any work experience haven’t got anything to put on their CV.”

The foundation was awarded £10,000 from the Shackleton Foundation, which helps disadvantaged young people by supporting social entrepreneurs, to continue its work.

William Shipton, chairman of the Shackleton Foundation, said: “The Smile Organisation’s work in Norfolk, helping young offenders find employment, demonstrates how Stacy’s inspiration, enterprise and courage has led her to develop a business that will have a positive impact on so many young lives.”

Young people between the age of 16 and 30 are referred to Miss Bradley by the Job Centre and other agencies across Norfolk.

Meeting each fortnight, they are given help with training, and one-to-one support in finding out where their interests lie.

“It’s about finding out what people’s passions are and tailoring the service around that,” said Miss Bradley, who currently works from home in Taverham.

The help often includes practising how to tell a potential employer about a criminal conviction.

“A lot will write to the company, but don’t know how they are going to speak about it,” said Miss Bradley. “We want to make sure they show remorse and show how they are trying to change things.”

Miss Bradley urged people to challenge the stereotype about a former offender.

“When people know someone has been in prison they have this idea of what that person looks and 
sounds like,” she said.

“When you take them to a job interview it’s a different story.”

The organisation is also recruiting board members, particularly those with experience in finance.

Have you given someone a fresh start? Call business writer Sabah Meddings on 01603 772879 or email sabah.meddings@
archant.co.uk

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