Would you recruit an ex-offender? Norfolk police and crime commissioner Lorne Green urges companies to offer second chance to former prisoners

Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk Lorne Green visiting Kier Ltd at the Anglian Water site in

Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk Lorne Green visiting Kier Ltd at the Anglian Water site in Norwich to present a certificate of thanks for the company's involvement in the Gateway to Employment project. From left, Kier operations director Richard Flintham, health and safety manager Alex Hitch, PCC communications manager Martin Barsby, PCC Lorne Green and Paul Salmon of Clancy Docwra. Picture: Angela Sharpe Photography. - Credit: Angela Sharpe Photography

Employers have been urged to give a second chance to ex-offenders as a county-wide project makes a renewed push to sign up 100 businesses.

The Gateway to Employment scheme has already signed up 75 businesses since being launched in December 2015, each of which agree to offer training, apprenticeship or employment opportunities to those seeking work after prison.

Norfolk Police and Crime Commissioner Lorne Green, whose office runs the programme with the Department for Work and Pensions, visited three participating employers as part of a bid to reach the target of 100 by the end of this year.

Scroll down to read what an ex-offender and their line manager think of the Gateway to Employment programme.

'We know that having a job can reduce the likelihood someone will go on to re-offend but, for many, the barriers they face in finding employment can make it difficult to leave their offending pasts behind them,' said Mr Green.

'And some employers will, and do, use the declaration of a criminal record to discriminate against a job applicants, even though skills shortages exist and there's a benefit to their business in having access to an increased pool of suitable candidates.

'When the scheme launched we asked our local business community to show their support for Gateway to Employment by offering positive opportunities for people criminal convictions. They've responded superbly to that call for action, offering training and apprenticeships, support with CV writing and interviews, as well as work experience and paid employment.

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Mr Green visited three of Gateway's supporters - Home Group, Kier Ltd and Bernard Matthews – to thank them for their involvement and meet those who have benefited.

Overall, Gateway to Employment has helped ex-offenders secure more than 100 work academy and training places, and more than 30 work experience placements, with 33 job offers made and 25 going on to start jobs.

Great Witchingham poultry producer Bernard Matthews has been among the most enthusiastic supporters of the scheme and representatives will attend the next Gateway to Employment board meeting to help develop the scheme.

Mr Green said: 'The value of speaking first-hand to those who have benefitted from what Gateway to Employment offers gave me a real insight into the challenges that face both parties and the genuine and tangible benefits both gain from the experience.

'What was of equal value was to hear from those involved about where they still see the 'choke points' in terms of making employing ex-offenders an easier and more productive process. That learning will not be lost.'

Julia Nix, of the Department of Work and Pensions in Norfolk, said: 'Over the last year, Gateway to Employment has enabled many ex-offenders to secure work, and it is very encouraging to see employers willing to consider recruitment from this hidden talent pool of people.'

The ex-offender's view: 'Starting here has been a real turning point'

I believe I am stronger for all the experiences I have been through. That is not to say I am glad I went through them and it is not a path I would choose again; however those experiences gave me strength.

The prison experience was tough, not just on me but on my family. It got to a point where I told my Mum not to come and visit me any more. She would come and be in tears, so I told her not to come.

Getting work experience and then starting here has been a real turning point for me, but also a big shock. It has taken me three months to truly settle down. One of the main challenges is dealing with the formality of the workplace again.

I believe I am now turning a negative into a positive; I really believe I am giving something back. I believe if you really put your mind to something you can do it.

I am a great believer that everything happens for a reason and that you get to a point where you understand; you understand things better. But I am always positive and am determined to stay positive.

I have been a guest speaker back in prison. That was very strange, returning to those surroundings but as a guest. That was very strange.

What I believe is that we need to build people's confidence and if I can help change the attitude of one person then that will be a success.

In five years I want to have made real progress and I want to have also helped people like me. Every day I learn something new and I am so grateful for this opportunity.

The line manager's view: 'People need a sense of place, not just a building'

She has been amazing and has seriously enriched the team. One of the things that has impressed me is her hunger for knowledge and how keen she to learn.

Gateway to Employment has made it possible. The team here has been extremely welcoming. I am not sure if everyone here is aware, and would like to think it doesn't need to be advertised as such.

The principles behind Gateway to Employment are an important part of our organisational ethos. As a result of our involvement in Gateway our service has become enriched. We recognise that people need a sense of place, not just a building.'

• If you are an employer interested in finding out more about Gateway to Employment, contact Mary Scales at the DWP on mary.scales@dwp.gsi.gov.uk