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Enterprise Exchange

Ellie Price, about 3 months ago

My personal view is that the role of Enterprise Exchange in prison is vital and a catalyst to an effective rehabilitation that some prisoners need…[it] also enthuses them not to be dependent on someone else to provide them employment on release." – Albert Barnes, Chief Executive, UK Resettlement

There is a seam of entrepreneurship that runs through many prisons. For many ex-offenders self-employment is a viable alternative to employment. In fact 79% of prisoners who participated in a survey conducted by the Centre for Entrepreneur's (CFE), whose report From inmates to entrepreneurs we featured in a previous blog, reported that they were interested in starting a business.

Enterprise Exchange, which features in the CFE report, specialises in helping people with additional barriers to start a business and ultimately transform their lives. They recognise that self-employment training, mentoring and skills development can help reduce reoffending rates dramatically. However, Enterprise Exchange also acknowledges that mainstream business support is either too expensive or not fit for purpose for this client group. Therefore, the Directors of Enterprise Exchange, in partnership with HMP Lewes and the University of Brighton, have created a programme which will equip them with the knowledge, self-confidence and support they need to start their own business.

Clients engaged in this programme take part in workshops which introduce to them the concepts of self-employment, business planning, and sales and marketing. They are also offered intensive one-to-one coaching, delivered by experienced business coaches who specialise in working with offenders and clients from excluded backgrounds. This one-to-one support is continued once an individual has been released. As well as helping to develop the necessary business skills, these sessions aim to build clients' self-esteem. Whilst business advice and guidance is crucial for anyone looking to become a successful entrepreneur, for this client group there are certain underlying issues which must be addressed and resolved to enable long-term success.

In addition to these workshops and one-to-one sessions, Enterprise Exchange signposts individuals to relevant agencies that may be able to help them with any further support they need on either a personal or practical level (for example help with funding). Enterprise Exchange also helps prisoners 'plug into' mainstream business networks, laying the foundations for support after they leave prison. Finally, given the barriers individuals have in conducting market research whilst still in custody, advisors from Enterprise Exchange, in collaboration with their clients, provide support by conducting market research to help take their ideas forward.

Some of the individuals who have been through the programme have subsequently been trained by Enterprise Exchange to become mentors. Such peer-to-peer communication is extremely powerful for this client group.

In HMPS Lewes, Enterprise Exchange helped 124 offenders into self-employment and employment over an 18-month period. Joseph started working with Enterprise Exchange in April 2016 with the ultimate aim of opening his own restaurant. He attended the self-employment workshops and then had at least 6 one-to-one sessions as well as regular support over the phone from Benna, Enterprise Exchange's Director. Alongside his key worker, Benna helped him put together his business plan, organise his social media and handle other practical issues, such as setting up card machines and printing menus. His restaurant opened in September 2016 and he has since expanded his business by taking on a number of kitchen staff. He and Benna are still in regular email contact.

Enterprise Exchange has been commissioned to run several programmes this year. They will be working in HMP Isis in April and with probation in Crawley, Sussex in May. They are also looking to work with Biz Britain in the Midlands at HMP Featherstone.

"Working with Enterprise Exchange has proven to be more than them simply fulfilling a contract, as the directors bring so much more with them. Their connections within the business community, their understanding of the challenges faced by offenders and their commitment to supporting those with whom they work, both inside and outside the prison, bring valuable resources to the partnership..." – John Orr, Resettlement Partnership Manager, HMP Lewes (Retired)