Adapting to overcome the challenges of coronavirus

The design of the No Going Back project was clear. It took the core components of Bounce Back’s proven model of providing high quality prison based training in the built environment combined with bespoke through-the-gate support to find work and added additional strengths. The active support of London’s Livery Companies greatly extended the number and range of employment options available and the addition of help finding suitable housing on release made the project attractive to many more people in prison.

The project was designed in 2019 when those working in the offender employment sector were becoming increasingly confident that, for the first time, a significant number of employers were beginning to change attitudes towards people with criminal convictions, realising that many individuals proved to be excellent employees, bringing a high level of commitment and determination to succeed.

Whether these new attitudes will survive the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic with hundreds of thousands of people made redundant and re-entering the job market remains to be seen.

The pandemic made Bounce Back think long and hard about whether to launch No Going Back (NGB) but the Livery Companies who fund the initiative agreed with us that people leaving prison looking for work in 2020 were in even more need of comprehensive support. The decision to go ahead was made and the scheme formally launched on 1 July, albeit with extensive modifications to cope with the lockdowns operating both in prison and the community.

The most significant area needing re-design was the “front end” of the initiative. NGB intended to recruit almost all its participants through the training programmes it delivers in a range of London prisons. How could it engage prisoners when all prison education and training activities were closed down to contain the spread of COVID-19?

The project team has come up with a wide range of new approaches to publicise the project and get people in prison signed up to it:

  • A project induction pack was introduced and distributed to prisoners in HMP Brixton. As well as providing information about the initiative and how to get involved, the pack included a number of activities for prisoners to do while restricted to their cells during prison lockdown (see image below).
  • The Mayor of the City of London and employers prepared to offer jobs to released prisoners publicised NGB via a series of interviews on Prison Radio.
  • HMP Wandsworth uploaded the information from the packs onto their interactive kiosks situated on every prison landing so that people in prison could find out about the project and sign up.
  • Bounce Back is working with 3Pillars, a sports-based mentoring charity in HMP Feltham, to publicise NGB and encourage people to sign up.

The NGB team has its full staff team back from furlough and has completed its recruitment process and is confident of being able to provide a high quality mentoring experience through a combination of coronavirus-compliant face-to-face work and remote support.

However, the other big challenge is to ensure that there are sufficient job opportunities for people on NGB at a time when the number of people who are unemployed has been rising rapidly because of the pandemic. This is where the commitment and expertise of the Livery Companies will be critical. Many people are hopeful that the construction industry will be one of the first sectors to recover but it remains unclear whether there will be as many vacancies as previously. However, one sector which is actually expanding as a result of COVID-19 is cleaning with many organisations adopting much more regular and intensive cleaning regimes. Fortunately, the Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners has been one of the principal Livery companies supporting the project.

We will be keeping you up-to-date regularly with the progress of No Going Back, charting both our successes and the new challenges we face. We also intend to feature the hopes and fears of the people leaving prison whom NGB is designed to help.

Watch this space….


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