Blue Sky aims to break the cycle of re-offending by employing and training teams of ex-offenders and offering them as an alternative to agency labour in a range of industries, such as environmental services and grounds maintenance.
Each team, comprising up to five participants, is led by a skilled supervisor, who provides mentoring and ensures the team is led to consistently high standards, with discipline a key consideration. Blue Sky ensures each candidate’s full history is known and does not employ sex offenders or those with current substance reliance or anger management issues.
Since 2014, Blue Sky has provided teams to carry out grounds maintenance work on idverde’s (previously Quadron Services) local authority grounds maintenance contracts for the London Borough of Southwark, Wandsworth Borough Council, and Croydon Council. As well as providing obvious benefits of work experience and a wage to the Blue Sky participants, the arrangements also help idverde’s local authority grounds maintenance clients to achieve the aims of the Social Value Act with little or no added cost.
In 2014, the partnership saw 40 participants in the scheme gain valuable work experience carrying out grounds maintenance activities such as mowing and strimming, working alongside our teams of operatives. During that time, many successfully gained recognised qualifications, including chemical and pesticides spraying, car and trailer driving and Personal Track Safety.
Of those who completed the programme during 2014, three participants have found permanent jobs, one of whom joined our Southwark contract as a full-time Apprentice Gardener and who is now working towards a Level 2 Diploma in Work-Based Horticulture.
Due to the success of the scheme to date, idverde and Blue Sky will be continuing their partnership with further programmes planned.
Utilising teams from Blue Sky will not only help idverde to manage the seasonal peak workload over the spring and summer seasons but will also provide a potential pool of staff to fill vacancies as they arise, who are already trained and are familiar with the work.
idverde Portfolio Director, Martyn Bradley, commented: “Working with Blue Sky has proved to be a real and productive partnership on the ground, thus enabling us to meet our high standards. In addition, our relationship with Blue Sky has greatly increased the number of people we are able to reach and offer opportunities within a highly supportive environment.”
John Chesters, Blue Sky’s Commercial and Development Director, added: “It has been a pleasure working with you all and we are delighted that so many people have been given the opportunity to get some experience, build a work history and start to turn their lives around.
“We will continue to work with all the people you’ve employed to help get them into full time work, so the total onward jobs number will certainly increase.
“There have been some challenges, but we hope we will be able to repeat, and even build on, the success of this year as our partnership continues.”
Suhal started working for our Wandsworth contract, as one of the beneficiaries of the Blue Sky initiative. Suhal was eager to prove himself and gained a reputation as a consistent team member, working hard with perfect attendance.
Recognised by the senior management, he was offered a seasonal contract based at Battersea, where he solidified his reputation as a proactive member of staff. Suhal returned to the cemeteries a year later as the Team Leader of a five-person team where he continues to support and motivate his colleagues.
This led to Suhal being nominated and awarded the company’s Employee of the Month award in May 2016.
Cullum first got into serious trouble aged 12 after getting in with the wrong crowd at school, and spent a year in a secure training centre. After his release he returned to school, completed his GCSEs and met his girlfriend, with whom he now has a daughter. Cullum was determined to earn money to support his family, but couldn’t find a job because of his criminal record. Desperate, he resorted to stealing and selling cars and was caught and sent to prison on remand pending a trial, where he received a two-year suspended sentence.
Cullum says, “I realised during this time in prison that this wasn’t the lifestyle for me and that I didn’t want to go back to prison. I wanted a better life for me and my family and I knew I was very lucky not to get a prison sentence.”
Despite his good intentions, Cullum still struggled to find a job due to his criminal record. However, he searched the internet for companies that employ ex-offenders and found Blue Sky. He immediately applied and, after impressing at his interview, he started as a grounds maintenance operative on a Blue Sky team in early 2014, working on idverde’s parks maintenance contract in Southwark. During his employment, Cullum was very hardworking, impressing his Blue Sky supervisor and the idverde team so much that he was invited to join our Apprenticeship Scheme. He is now part of the grounds maintenance team at Peckham Rye Common, working as an Apprentice Gardener as he works towards a Level 2 Diploma in Horticulture, and hopes to continue to the Level 3 qualification, culminating in a permanent position as a Team Leader or similar role.
Cullum says: “Blue Sky and idverde have really helped me broaden my horizons. I can now look forward to a future without crime and a much happier life with my family and daughter in the community.”
Despite leaving school aged 15 without any solid qualifications, Colin enjoyed success in several jobs, including as an upholsterer and later working at the Savoy Hotel. In 1995 he joined the army, where he enjoyed the challenges and self-discipline of being a soldier. However, after returning from a three-year posting to Bosnia, where he saw some horrific things, he decided to leave the army and return to London. Sadly, life soon became unbearable when his two brothers died in freak accidents, shortly followed by the death of his mother; Colin was angry and resentful and this led to him getting into trouble with the law.
As is often the case, Colin’s criminal record made it difficult for him to find work. However, he was referred to Blue Sky after having taking part in gardening charity, Thrive’s, ‘Working it Out’ Programme in idverde-maintained Battersea Park in Wandsworth. This programme sees participants receive one-on-one support from a Thrive horticultural therapist while developing an understanding of the workplace and gaining the employment skills they need to hold down a job.
Our Lantra-accredited Trainers also provide relevant training in skills such as manual handling and safe use of small plant to the participants.
Following his successful completion of the ‘Working it Out’ Programme, Colin was pleased to be accepted onto a Blue Sky team working to maintain one of Wandsworth’s cemeteries as part of idverde’s ground maintenance contract, and hopes to start a full time position in East Village, part of the Olympic Park Estate, in the near future.
Photographs supplied by Blue Sky.