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Commercial Cleaning Business at HMP Coldingley

Ellie Price, about 5 years ago

For many ex-offenders, employment begins before they have been released from prison. Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) allows individuals in prison to undertake certain activities within the community, including completing training and education courses and carrying out paid employment. However, at HMP Coldingley (Woking, Surrey), a project is being developed which will see both prisoners and prison staff working together to set up and run a cleaning business within the prison grounds.

The project was borne out of the ideas of two prisoners, who saw the business as a mutual and supportive enterprise providing employment as well as rehabilitation and resettlement support services for its 'members'. The project consists of a prisoner co-run rehabilitation and resettlement agency which also runs a commercial cleaning business, providing real paid employment for its prisoner and ex-prisoner members.

Who exactly are to be the members of this co-operative? 'Membership' of the agency will compromise two major groups. The first group consists of prisoners and ex-prisoners: employees of the cleaning business, co-deliverers of the rehabilitation services and users of the rehabilitation and resettlement services. It is likely to be the case that many members of this constituency will perform all three functions. The second group compromises prison and other training support staff 'seconded' to the agency to provide training and business support to the commercial cleaning business and co-delivery of the rehabilitation and resettlement services with members of the first constituency.

Supporting the prisoners and prison staff leading the business and rehabilitation and resettlement services on this project are The Ideas Mine and Co-operative & Mutual Solutions (CMS). The Ideas Mine is a social business development consultancy based in the North of England which helps social businesses and third sector organisations develop and grow sustainable futures. CMS works with co-operative and social enterprises locally, regionally and nationally. It has supported communities take over a local service, workers purchase the businesses they work for, and public sector workers transfer into a co-op or mutual.

The vision behind this project is that it will give prisoners and ex-prisoners opportunities to gain experience and qualifications in cleaning, as well as business management and administration. It could also provide its members ROTL employment and structured progression into employment on release. Once the commercial cleaning business and rehabilitation and resettlement services are up and running, the aim is to deliver an associated social business support programme designed to stimulate further business ideas based particularly (but not exclusively) on existing workshop activities, incorporating rehabilitation and resettlement support services on the same lines as the cleaning business.

As well as giving its prisoner and ex-prisoner members the opportunity to engage in real paid employment, such a project will hopefully give its members the support they need to turn their lives around and find sustainable employment upon release.