Following on from the recent news that key cutting company, Timpson have been taking on ex-offenders into their business, Sussex Business Times delves deep into the company’s ethos

Timpson is one of the UK’s leading retail service provider employing over 3,400 colleagues, with 1,325 owned stores and 110 “Snappy Snaps” franchises throughout the UK and Ireland.  Timpson has been established since 1865 and is family owned and run by John Timpson as Chairman and James Timpson as Chief Executive. The franchise continues to expand by opening new stores (mostly concessions or pods in or near supermarkets), growing its photo business, including the recently converted Tesco Photo Estate and Tesco online service, expanding its national locksmiths business and introducing new services such as mobile phone and iPad repairs.

Timpson are giving prisoners a chance to re-enter society and is a pioneer for giving people a second chance. Currently 10% of their workforce are ex-convicts, however they like to call them Foundation Colleagues. Timpson have recruited 270 members of their staff from jail, many working in the day and returning to their cell at night.

The son of Timpson’s Chairman, James is responsible for the employment of former prisoners and began employing these people 10 years ago. Speaking in a recent article published by The Telegraph, he said: “I was invited to go round Thorncross in Warrington. They gave me a guide, Matthew, who was about 18 and I really liked him, so I said ‘when you’re out, don’t tell anybody, but I’ll give you a job’. He’s still with us today and he’s brilliant!”

Timpson now work with around 70 prisons in the country, all of which are mainly category C or D; more relaxed closed and open prisons. They also have three “academies” in Liverpool, New Hall and Blantyre House jails where prisoners can learn the trade.

“It is important how they tell me about their offence,” says James Timpson. “I like the ones where there’s a pause, where they know what they’ve done is wrong. We probably select one out of 10. While it might not seem like it, there are some limits, although these are questionable at the very least… James admits that while the company will go to extreme lengths to avoid anything to do with gangs and homicide.

Russell Zecanovsky is just one of Timpson’s ex-convict employees, who is currently running one of the company’s shops just outside of Wimbledon station. His crimes were mainly drug-related – his last sentence served for growing Cannabis. Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: “It’s better what Timpson’s doing than what the prisons are doing,” he says. “I’d been to prison three times before I joined Timpson and I had no rehabilitation at all really. With Timpson they are giving you a career!”

An ex-offender called Sarah is another shining example of how employment can help rehabilitate offenders. After serving a five year sentence, she joined the Timpson team and ended up earning herself the title of runner up in the company’s Apprentice of the Year 2009 competition. More recently, Sarah was in the midst of beginning to manage one of the company’s shops.

The success of this new company initiative has led to plans to train prisoners in other areas of the Timpson empire. A photo processing business – part of the Max Spielmann chain (owned by Timpson) at women’s prison HMP New Hall – has already been approved and is in the planning stages. It will give the women who take part confidence and skills, and as in male prison workshops, they will be offered a trial job on release.

According to their website, the Timpson ethos is to provide great customer service and to do this they operate an ‘Upside Down’ management style, and this really is the case in every sense of the word. Sussex Business Times caught wind of Timpson’s new way of working. While the franchise company manage to maintain a respectable and well-known reputation, they have no means of advertisement and rely purely on word of mouth, which leads us to the question of, should modern day companies concentrate more on attaining business through a positive rep and word of mouth as opposed to paying for advertising?

Timpson believe the best way to give great customer service is to give freedom to the colleagues that serve customers, and with many ex-offenders paying the price for their first time committing a crime, who is to say that they don’t have the capabilities to work as well as your typical employee?

Statistically, it’s quite impressive how few people who are given work when they get out of prison reoffend. In a Ministry of Justice 2013 study, statistics revealed that 18% of those with a job on release reoffended, whereas 43% of those who had no job reoffended. With this in mind, we can only hope that more businesses and organisations jump on the bandwagon and incorporate a similar initiative into business, killing two birds with one stone.

With an array of success stories behind him, James believes other businesses would do well to join forces with prison industries. He concluded: “I would say that if you’re in the business of wanting good people to work for you, you would be wise to look for talent in strange places, and one of those places may be prisons because from our experience, we’ve found lots of superstars there.”