From prison to Parliament in a day

James Eder, Co-founder of The Beans Group shares his experience of an exciting and insightful day

James at Parliament, alongside Michael Eder and Luke Mitchell, Head of Insight at Voxburner

James at Parliament, alongside Michael Eder and Luke Mitchell, Head of Insight at Voxburner

Waking up I was excited and looking forward to the day. As part of Wavelength’s Connect programme, those involved had the opportunity to attend a session at The Clink - a restaurant within the walls of Brixton Prison. If you’ve not heard of it, The Clink Charity has a partnership with HM Prison Service which offers prisoners training towards gaining a nationally recognised NVQ qualification. Upon release, The Clink Charity helps graduates find employment within the catering and hospitality industry, and mentors them weekly for 6-12 months to help them reintegrate back into society and avoid re-offending.

We heard first hand from Lady Edwina Grosvenor the alarming re-offence rates - a national average of 46.9%. The Clink Project has been able to buck this trend, reducing this figure to 6% according to 2012 statistics. All prisoners in training follow The Clink’s Five Step Model of recruitment, training, auditing, employment and mentoring. It’s about providing the right support as well as giving trust back to offenders.

Unexpectedly the restaurant and training rooms were all housed in the old Governor's House. Were it not for the high walls and barbed wire seen through the windows, you could have been in any fine dining restaurant. The food was delicious and service fantastic, it was visible that everyone took pride in their work. It was challenging to hear first-hand stories of both former and current prisoners - people being in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting involved with the wrong people that resulted in them spending time in prison. However, I was more inspired to hear how they got themselves back on the right track, went through The Clink Programme and were now committed to being back in and contributing to society.

After lunch we also heard from Dennis Phillips who heads up The Timpson Foundation, a real champion for employing ex-offenders. Susannah, one of their team, went on to share her gratitude for Timpsons - they were the ones who gave her a second chance, took her on board and she is now successfully managing her own store, having been with the business for 5 years. Timpsons now have 8 academies which are shops in prisons with 120 people in training at any one time. They do all the usual things a Timpson shop provides, except of course the key cutting!

Dennis shared 3 key things someone needs when leaving prison: support from your family, somewhere to live and a job. Timpson helps in any way it can providing support, loans for deposits for housing and of course a job for those successful in the training process. There are clear benefits for the business, including loyalty with 75% of recruits coming from prison staying over 12 months and 10 branch managers appointed ( - but this is genuinely about doing good. It is a very inspiring story.

As I left the confines of the prison, I was humbled by the people I met and stories I heard. It was so inspiring to hear what people are doing to try and make a difference, but then a big question and challenge as a society is what can we do to stop crime and people ending up in prison in the first place?

The Clink at Brixton Prison

The Clink at Brixton Prison

My next stop - The Houses of Parliament

I arrived on the bank of the Thames for an event hosted by Rebecca Harris MP. The event marked the launch of a brand new research report ‘The Future of Identifying Enterprising Students’ commissioned by RBS Inspiring Enterprise and produced by Voxburner, which studied the enterprise and entrepreneurial landscape amongst students throughout the UK.

The findings were fascinating, with the key point being that Britain is producing highly enterprising and skilled students, but many have a problem identifying themselves as such. Fresh from my experiences at The Clink, I couldn’t help but think the core message and learnings from entrepreneurship and enterprise lend themselves to being key in engaging a new generation. If we can engage more people at a younger age, provide the right support and actively highlight positive role models, this could go someway to stopping a downward spiral of crime, prison and re-offending.

The positive spin on experiences, innovation, idea creation, project management, HR, time management as well as  a “can do” attitude and mindset all have their part to play. It is indeed the innovative idea and the concept of the restaurant devised by Chef Alberto Crisci MBE that gives inmates an opportunity to get into the food industry, that can (and does) for many set them up for life.

The report mentions many organisations I’ve had a the pleasure of being supported by and involved with -  Young Enterprise, AIESEC, The Princes Trust - all of which have shaped my journey and helped support The Beans Group grow from just a seed of an idea to a team of over 40 today.

There are parallels perhaps between students involved in university societies who don’t realise their skills and strengths that apply to entrepreneurism and those young people in prisons who don’t realise they do in fact have the skills to make a difference to their own lives. For both groups, it is just a case of believing and applying it.

Edmond Tullett, The Governor of Brixton, shared with us this: “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”― Oscar Wilde

I had two very different experiences in the same day, but ultimately both pieces of the same puzzle. If embraced in the right way, enterprise can be the answer and a certainly a step in the right direction.