August 9th, 2023

Here at Responsible Brands we need to admit something, we’ve let our guard down. There’s a stalwart of responsibility, an example of where this idea and the free-market converge to form something greater than the sum of their parts, a pillar of British society; dare I say, that hasn’t had the bright light of a Responsible Brands showcase bestowed upon them. This is none other than the Timpson Group.

In 1865, Timpson shoe shop opened on Oldham Road in Manchester, progressed into manufacturing shoes in 1884 and began offering a repairs service in 1903. They have further diversified since, providing the services of dry cleaning, watch repairs and engravings by 2003. In 2008, The Timpson Group then bought Max Spielmann out of administration and would go on to purchase Snappy Snaps. 2008 was a year more important than first thought for Timpson’s, as they began a programme of employing people who had been occupied in the penitentiary system.

The story regarding the ideas conception has been well documented, with James Timpson (CEO) visiting a local prison and meeting a young man named Matt. Getting on well together, James’ attention turned towards Matt’s potential and the serious contribution he could make to the Timpson Group.

James offered him a place in the business once he’d served his time and sine then Matt has gone on to become one of the more successful branch managers. 14 years later Timpson’s are one of the largest employers of ex-offenders in the UK, with approximately 10% of their workforce being made up of people who have criminal convictions. So, you might ask, where does responsibility come into all this? One word, reoffence.

The reoffending rate in the United Kingdom is genuinely shocking; around 30.6% yearly. Of course, this brings with it questions on whether the role of the justice system is to rehabilitate or punish, the binary outlook of businesses in their hiring practices, and so on. But, it is clear that this bloating figure needs to change. Point 26 of the Prisons Strategy White Paper from the Ministry of Justice, June 2022, cites ‘the need to improve the quality of education provided in prisons’ when discussing reoffending. Evidence that the Government at that time had concerns regarding the reoffence rate and thought skills and training were a remedy for this.

Whilst it is tough to quantify the effect of reoffending on GDP and the UK workforce more generally, it is estimated that the total economic and social cost is around £18.1 billion when looking at costs of anticipation, consequences and response of crime. This presents a point of responsibility for private businesses; they’re the predominant providers of employment in the UK which, in a more economically developed country, is the principal mechanism for relatively modest living and increases the country’s GDP.

It is hard not to be impressed with the way in which the Timpson Group have executed their programme of hiring ex-offenders. From 2008-2021, the company has employed more than 1,500 ex-prisoners with just four returning to jail. This suggests a lot of things, one being that when ex-offenders are given a second chance at gainful employment and treated with respect they, much more often than not, will take this opportunity to change their life path. Another angle emphasises the Timpson Group’s ability to recruit well, have good support networks in place and really understand the challenges that ex-offenders face. It is worth noting that some of these employees struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. I thought it worthwhile to detail these support systems a little more as it seems the benefits of providing these provisions far outweigh the time and resources that they require.

In many cases, the help starts whilst the prisoner is still incarcerated. Training Academies that mimic High Street stores enable prisoners to be trained in skills that will be used when working for the Timpson Group. There are also instances where those that are on a system of Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL); where prisoners who are coming to the end of their sentence to leave prison everyday and work in the community, are able to work for the Timpson Group. This provides a bridge between custody and release, allowing the prisoner to gradually prepare for integration back into society. This also has a benefit later on in the process.

The Timpson Group believe getting off to a good start is critical and will, sometimes, meet the ex-offenders at the prison gates on the day of release. There is support via a company-funded counseling service and the provision of a loan for a deposit on a flat. Around £692,000 is spent on recruiting, retraining, mentoring and other services in a year via the Timpson Foundation charity. Then, the new employee will be given free uniform, lunches, and any help that is needed to settle into their new home. As aforementioned in the paragraph above, this is where the use of the work by those designated with a ROTL has a beneficial effect as the new permanent employee already has a rapport with their branch colleagues and a familiarity with the facilities.

Susannah Grant now works for Timpson after a time in prison. Photographed in a Timpson branch in the Potters Bar Tesco.

In some cases ex-offenders can be partnered with a mentor that will help them where possible. What struck me when diving deeper into the help that ex-offenders receive is that it all lends itself to reinforcing the idea of a team. In this instance the word ‘team’ seems appropriate, but in more broad instances this could be compared to the value of a support network. To underpin the fact that this ex-offender resettlement programme works, the Timpson Group has an ex-offender retention rate of approximately 75%.

Having been doing this for 12 years suggests a mindset that is ahead of the curve, it’s also another indication that this approach works. It shows that a lowering of the barriers to employment for a certain group of ex-offenders is a win-win. James Timpson suggested in 2019 that “they tend to be more loyal and hardworking than most, because they are grateful for the opportunity”. Showing this conjunction between a responsible cause of sympathy and running a successful business in a market economy, James emphasises his commercial side but notes “if colleagues don’t come first, you won’t achieve your financial goals”.

Alongside all of this, Timpson’s have previously run a ‘Ban the Box’ campaign, trying to convince employers to remove the ‘criminal record’ box from the first round of their interviews. Another campaign that is still running in 500 stores today is where Timpson’s Group offers free dry cleaning to those that are unemployed. If you’re a business that wants to follow suit and employ ex-offenders then you can find a helpful link on the Timpson Group website and at the bottom of this page. As you’ve read, when done right this can have an immense effect on a business looking for dedicated recruits.

It’s a brand that has taken responsibility into its own hands. The Timpson Group have proactively sought to achieve business progress, and by doing so have entered into an endeavor of responsibility which has both positive effects on themselves and the ex-offenders whom they employ. Moreover, the commitment they’ve shown in this endeavor is commendable as well. This commitment may even be depicted in their tagline ‘Great Service by Great People’, a nod to the ongoing work of ex-offenders? We’ll let you decide.

Link to advice on hiring an ex-offender:

Image reference:

Image 1: Retail Gazette, 2022, Image 2: The Hitchin Basket, 2022, Image 3: Financial Time, 2014, Image 4: Financial Times, 2020

Written by Charlie Ruddle, Project Manager, Hatched.

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