Alumni stories – Key4Life

17th February 2021

Reoffending costs the UK government £18 billion a year

As we celebrate five years of impact in the UK, we are proud to have Key4Life as our alumnus. Key4Life helps address some of the key challenges with the criminal justice system in the UK.

The charity’s mission is: To reduce youth reoffending through the delivery of an innovative rehabilitation programme to those in prison and those at risk of going to prison.

Crime prevention charity Key4Life rehabilitates ex-offenders and supports them get back into employment for a fraction of the cost.

The cost of putting one participant through the Key4Life programme is £5,000 versus the average annual cost of a prison place in England and Wales of £37,000

And yet a Key4Life participant is four times more likely to be employed a year after their release than their peers, and 16% of those who’ve completed Key4Life’s programmes have re-offended, compared to the national reoffending rate of 64% one-year post release.

The past year has been a challenging one for all of us, laced with different intersecting crises. The issue of race has become an unavoidable topic across the world and undoubtedly here in the UK too. While there are many facets to the topic, we will highlight the criminal justice system.

The Lammy Review shows that people who are charged, tried and punished are disproportionately likely to come from minority communities. While the UK has 14% BAME population, 25% of prisoners and 40% of young people in custody are represented by BAME communities.

Eva Hamilton.

We caught up with Eva Hamilton MBE, the Founder and CEO of Key4Life.

What does your charity do?

Key4Life is a crime prevention charity that works with young men in prison, those at risk of going to prison and those caught up in knife crime in London and the South West.  Key4Life’s mission is to break the cycle of reoffending, primarily amongst young men aged 18-30 who have the highest reoffending rates and lowest chances of securing employment.

Who are the main people your charity helps, and how does your charity do this?

Key4Life delivers three types of programme:

1). targeted ‘through the gate’ support to young men aged 18-30 who seek a second chance post-release from prison through a 12-month programme which starts in prison and continues upon release.

2). A preventative 6-month programme with young men aged 18-25 who are at risk of offending behaviour and not in education, employment or training, to divert them away from offending and onto a positive path to employment.

3). Preventative intervention assemblies and workshops in schools to promote positive relationships, communication and anti-knife crime awareness.

Key4Life’s seven-step model is unique as it focuses first on unlocking the negative behaviours that may lead a young man to reoffend (eg through equine therapy, music and boxing), before instilling new emotional resilience tools and techniques, and thereafter building the employability skills and work experience needed to secure meaningful employment for the long-term.

View and download Key4Life’s 7-step model.

Are there any specific projects your charity does that have been particularly successful?

Key4Life has an impressive track record of working with troubled young men who have shown a reluctance to engage with other preventative programmes. Since our formation, over 500 participants have completed their seven-step journeys via our Prison and ‘At Risk’ programmes. During this time, we have proven the efficacy of the seven-step model, offering cost-effective and creative solutions to the entrenched social problem of youth offending.

Our first programme was delivered in 2012 and has been developed and refined ever since, to the extent that it has now been delivered 21 times in total. To date, we have worked in the following prisons: HMP/YOI Ashfield, HMP Portland, HMP/YOI Isis, HMP Wormwood Scrubs, HMP Guys Marsh, Feltham YOI, and HMP Brixton.

We have also run successful AT RISK preventative programmes in the South West and London, and in 2021, are planning to deliver a further four AT RISK programmes across these regions. We are very proud that our At Risk programme has grown from strength to strength and we supported 59 young men through our these programmes in both London and Bristol last year.

HMP Brixton Programme – an example of what can be achieved

Our recently completed prison programme at HMP Brixton is a good example of how Key4Life can help to turn men’s lives around.

Status before the programme:

  • 20% had not been employed before
  • 36% reported suffering from anxiety and depression at registration
  • 60% were in temporary accommodation or rough sleeping pre-custody.

By the end of the programme:

  • 46% of those rough sleeping or in temporary accommodation are now in secure accommodation
  • 73% of participants now feel in better health having completed the programme
  • 50% have improved their emotional resilience
  • Four participants (18%) completed work tasters at iD Magazine, Naked TV & Impendulo (lower than usual due to COVID)
  • 45% were in employment by the end of the programme
  • 60% were in Education, Training or Employment by the end of the programme

Inspired by Key4Life’s recent HMP Brixton Graduation virtual event for this cohort, hosted by KMPG, ITV London News featured two of our ex-offenders on 29 January who between them have managed to find a good job in the City and set up a thriving business during Lockdown. Both are challenging the stigma against employing offenders. 

You can watch the clip below:

Plus the Press Association (PA) also ran an article about the remarkable turnaround stories of five Key4Life graduates who got jobs or set up thriving businesses during lockdown on 31 January, which went VIRAL – now published in over 100 newspapers and news outlets, including Yahoo, MSN, The Northern Echo, Glasgow Evening Times and the Belfast Telegraph.

The stories of the five men featured in the PA piece were as follows:

Tarang

Tarang.

A successful start in life saw Tarang (now 35) graduate from Cambridge University and enjoy a high-flying City career before a charge of controlling behaviour led to a 22-month prison sentence. Leaving prison, he struggled to find employment, but after going through the Key4Life programme he has set up a successful finance business.

Chance

Chance.

After a difficult childhood, Chance (51) got in with the wrong crowd and spent 16 years in prison for different offences including robbery, drug dealing and GBH. Committing to turning his life around, he contacted Key4Life and started developing plans for a new business, ‘Trooth’, which he set up during Lockdown. Trooth supplies nutritious fruit and veg boxes, herbs and supplements.

 

Vernel

Vernell pictured on the left.

First imprisoned for his involvement in the London riots in 2011, and a second time for drug offences in 2015, Vernel (27), struggled to find employment on release. In 2019, he contacted Key4Life, who following his rehabilitation, helped him get a placement with TV production company Knickerbockerglory. Knickerbockerglory were so impressed with Vernel that they gave him a year extension on his placement.

Ony

Ony.

Ony (28), grew up in a world where crime and gangs was normal, in South London.  Falling on hard times, he started to sell drugs to survive. Winding up in jail, when he heard Key4Life were bringing horses into the prison, he wanted to find out more. Completing the Key4Life programme, he set up his own thriving cake business, Baked 2 Perfection, during Lockdown.

Mo

Mo (30), fell into drug dealing following an upbringing of “little opportunity”. When he went to prison he thought his life was over, but having completed the Key4Life programme, he was recently selected from 200 applicants for a digital executive role at esteemed marketing agency, Media Com, following a six-tier interview process.

You can read the full PA article here.

All these former offenders are shining examples that ex-offenders deserve a second chance – and in this era of diversity, equity and inclusivity, KPMG and Key4Life are urging more businesses to support men with convictions by offering employment opportunities and work tasters.

How do grants from organisations help your charity?

Grants and funding enable us to do the vital work that we do. Funds are critical for helping Key4Life to provide support and create employment opportunities for former offenders and help break the cycle of crime.

A six-month At Risk programme costs just under £73,000 and our 12-month Prison programme costs approximately £140,000, and we also have the core costs of rent, utilities and non-delivery staff to support. We provide 12-month alumni support to our programmes which means ongoing support and time that we need to factor into funding. Grants enable us to fund residentials, staff salaries, programme costs, and to run our events. They are crucial to our work being able to continue.

Your charity was awarded an IICF grant, which project did the IICF grant help? How has the charity changed and grown?

We were awarded a grant to support our HMP Brixton November 2018 programme for 12 months.  We recruited 25 men onto the programme and held our seven step programme with them providing  1-1 support, matching them with mentors for the 12 months and providing employability support and emotional resilience work. Six were recalled for previous offences. 44% were in employment by the end of the programme. Four set up their own businesses with our support.

Our 2018 cohort from HMP Brixton graduated with a ceremony at Sony HQ in London in March 2020 with a presentation from the President of Columbia Records, Ferdy Unger Hamilton. This cohort is now receiving alumni support for an additional year post programme with employability and emotional resilience support and access to workshops.

What impact has COVID-19 had on your charity’s activities?

In this current situation, the health and wellbeing of our participants, our volunteer mentors and our staff are our main priority. To that end, we are taking the relevant precautions and responsible actions to protect them and responsibly social distance in line with the Government’s advice.

However, our focus to support our participants currently in prison, due to be released, recently released, and our young men from our preventative NEET programmes and alumni, remains paramount.

In this third lockdown, our work is mostly online. We are providing two Emotional Resilience and Employability workshops a week, and are conducting a new round of Key Mentor training online. In addition, we are running a series of music workshops with Sony, and our Food Cell – a former prison van turned burger van is out on the road, providing tasty organic burgers to locals in Somerset, giving young ex-offenders valuable business skills and experience to help them get future work, and in doing so helping to reduce the reoffending rate. We are also running cooking classes on Tuesday afternoons with top chefs for the men manning the Food Cell.

View and download information on Our current position at Key4Life.

Where do you see your charity going in the next five years? What plans do you have for the future?

We hope to continue to grow and support our participants to ensure that we are enabling a reduction in reoffending. Our focus has primarily been on young males, as 61% of UK young offenders aged 18-24 return to prison within a year of release, males comprise 95% of the prison population and commit 86% of violent crime, thus our programmes support them to increase personal development and employability skills and reduce the risk of reoffending.

However, over the next five years, we would hope to launch a programme supporting young women in custody or at risk of offending and in need of employability support. We are also exploring ways to reach more children caught up in knife crime and gang warfare. Additionally, we are looking to expand our programmes into other regions, prospectively starting with Manchester in late 2021 / early 2022.

We want to develop our Key Mentor programme enabling these young men to have a greater impact on their peer group and to become future leaders and thought leaders. The expansion of the Key Mentor Programme will further allow us to grow our intervention work in schools and to extend our work.

We are also putting an increasing emphasis on our work with businesses. Our Younited Flag Campaign, launched in 2019 by music legend Nile Rodgers, encourages companies to employ ex-offenders and give them another chance, awarding those that do with the Younited Flag kitemark. We will be awarding the first eight national companies and six local companies to have employed ex-offenders through this scheme in April this year.

How can the IICF and their supporter’s help you get there?

We have recently sought a grant of £10,000 through the latest funding round to support Key4Life to deliver our six-month preventative ‘At Risk’ programme for 15 young men aged 18-25 who are at risk of offending and are currently not in education, employment, or training. With this grant we shall take them through our seven-step programme and support them into employment, education, and training opportunities. Key Mentors (alumni participants/ex-offenders) will play a key role in the delivery of this programme, as it is crucial that participants have relatable role models who will show that it’s possible to turn their back on crime. We seek to use part of this grant to train additional participants to become Key Mentors to gain an AQA Level 3 accredited qualification in Leadership and Mentoring for Key4Life. IICF could help us raise our profile by sharing news of our work with their networks. You could also support us by providing work tasters and employment opportunities to our participants.

Additional funding is always welcome and if staff or supporters wanted to fundraise on our behalf this would be very much appreciated and enable us to run our programmes and further develop them.

Key4Life is going from strength to strength, and yet due to Covid-19, like most charities is currently struggling financially, and is in need of donations and more funding.  We are therefore extremely grateful to IICF for their amazing support. We truly believe these young men have so much untapped potential and its organisations like IICF that make our work possible.

For anyone wishing to support and make a donation, please visit our website for further information: https://key4life.org.uk/index.php/donate/

For any further information about Key4Life visit: www.key4life.org.uk.

What is one word or phrase to sum up the charity’s relationship with IICF?

Transformative

“Thank you IICF for your continued support in enabling us to make a difference in young people’s lives. Through crucial grants like yours we are able to fund our activities to support and divert young men away from lives of crime and back into education, training and employment.

“One of our participants, Shak, showcased the difference this work makes when he said: ‘Key4Life has helped me change my life in more ways than I can imagine and I am so grateful for their support. Honestly, I didn’t even expect this level of commitment and help from everyone but I’m really lucky to have been given such amazing opportunities especially with helping me in my music career which is my number one passion. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor either – I’m truly blessed and my future is bright!’ ’’

Eva Hamilton MBE – CEO and Co-Founder, Key4Life