IMPACT THEME: Work & Employment; Rehabilitation & Criminal Justice
WHAT THEY DO: Watercourse & Horticultural Services
YEAR FOUNDED: 2013
LOCATION: Birmingham, Croydon, Durham, Leeds, Nottingham, Rochdale and Surrey
INVESTMENT AMOUNT: £100,000 through SITR (£1m in total from four social investors)
INVESTMENT SOURCE: Resonance West Midlands SITR Fund, Northstar Ventures, Big Issue Invest, the Charities Aid Foundation
INVESTMENT PURPOSE: Extend training programme to more regions
DEAL STRUCTURE: 6-year unsecured loan from the Resonance West Midlands SITR Fund - 3 years interest only (7% total cost p.a.), 3 years amortising loan (8% total cost p.a.). SITR eligible
ABOUT THE SKILL MILL
The Skill Mill is an award-winning social enterprise supporting ex-offenders with unique employment opportunities in water and land-based management. It focuses on the specific problem of youth rehabilitation, employing only ex-offenders aged 16-18 years, it is working to break the cycle of reoffending.
It all started back in 2013, when some young offenders were tasked with cleaning up local waterways. It soon became clear that reoffending levels dropped below the national average, thanks to this meaningful work, which also improved the environment. The Skill Mill took notice of this and created its first site in Newcastle. Through the sixth month employment programme, this social enterprise was improving the community whilst breaking down the barriers facing these children after offending at a young age. And tackling the stigma around having a criminal record.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT?
Seven years later and The Skill Mill has employed 158 people across the UK, with a 9.5% reconviction rate compared with the national average of 43%. These young people also gain six months paid employment, invaluable practical work experience working alongside local private contractors and partners, and a nationally recognised qualification. And even after the course, 65% of the young people achieved and maintained an employment or training outcome. Of course, The Skill Mill has set up other sites across England, but why stop there? It’s expanding internationally, with programmes being delivered in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
The well-researched intensive course has incredible benefits. Providing young ex-offenders with a fulfilling job, engaging socially with others in similar positions to them, helps them to reconnect with their community. Research shows that the type of job available to young ex-offenders can affect the reoffending rate. The Skill Mill’s particular type of rewarding work means increased time outdoors and contact with nature for everybody involved, which is shown to lead to improved emotional and physical wellbeing. This type of socially meaningful employment also has great environmental benefits. The teamwork to reduce flood risks, improve the flow of watercourses, and encourage others to think of more sustainable and low-cost contracting to solve water-related issues.
The Skill Mill’s projects and aims are also aligned with the UN’s sustainable development goals, such as End Poverty, Good Health, Quality Education, and Clean Water and Sanitation. So that means the team are tackling social and environmental challenges together.
Tony, a former Skill Mill employee, has followed his passion for the environment through into his own career. He now works for the Environment Agency, and says, “[Skill Mill] gave me that massive chance to prove that I'm not a criminal and I can work, I'm willing to work, and get up every morning and to do stuff for the environment.”
WHAT THE INVESTMENT IS FOR
With its impressive track record and eco-conscious focus, Resonance was eager to help The Skill Mill with its next big task. An investment from Resonance means that The Skill Mill can roll out its programme across seven regions, poised to support 224 young people over the next four years. This investment of £100,000 from the Resonance West Midlands SITR Fund, alongside investment from three other social investors, was secured to finance the delivery of an outcomes contract between Skill Mill and seven local authorities. This contract is unique: it is structured as a four year outcomes contract, funded by a social impact bond, which means that payments are received only when specific outcomes are achieved for each individual, whether that is securing employment, further training, or avoiding reoffending. So that means the programme is truly centred around the young people and their futures.
“This programme is the culmination of many months of hard work and dedication from all partners who are committed to improving the life chances of some of the most vulnerable young people in society,” says David Parks, Managing Director of The Skill Mill. “These young people who have been drawn into criminality need a realistic opportunity to break the cycle. The Skill Mill achieves this by helping to change their identity from one of an offender to an employee with legitimate income, self-respect and a desire to change their behaviour and contribute positively to society and the economy.”
Barry Coppinger, PCC Cleveland, has been excited to see the Skill Mill’s impact. “I believe firmly that people who make mistakes should be given the chance to make amends and undertake rehabilitation to enable them to contribute positively to society. Projects like Skill Mill, which give young people mentoring and qualifications, are invaluable in preventing the cycle of offending behaviour. I’ve been delighted to meet the young men involved in this project and to hear about the benefits they feel it has brought to their lives.”
MORE ABOUT THE SKILL MILL
Jayne Taylor works with residents at Percy Hedley and was initially nervous about the Skill Mill’s employees working on their new decking area, but it didn’t take long for her to see the trustworthy team and their high work standards. “Residents at Percy Hedley are very happy with the new decking area,” she says. “I was initially apprehensive about taking on the volunteers as I have to consider the vulnerability of the service users on the site but I thought the staff who supported the group were very good and the volunteers did a great job. We would be happy to support this type of working collaboration again.”
And in this year so far, The Skill Mill has been shortlisted for the North East England Chamber Business Employer of the Year Award, as well as several other community awards and a place on the NatWest SE100 List 2020. So, this just shows that the work they do is being truly recognised and will reach more young people across the UK.
Adapting to the coronavirus pandemic has been a massive challenge for many social enterprises, but the Skill Mill’s team has emerged from lockdown successfully and are even now making environmentally friendly face masks. The Skill Mill team and its partners have shown great resilience over the last few months and have demonstrated their commitment to ensuring the programme is a success.
In the future, The Skill Mill is hoping to fulfil more of its aims, which include more long-term sustainable employment for young ex-offenders. Achieving community safety across the new regions involved with its courses and creating solutions to water issues. All that, whilst building confidence and removing the stigma of having a criminal record at a young age, is a big challenge. But The Skill Mill is up to the task.
Resonance Limited is a company registered in England and Wales no. 04418625
Resonance Impact Investment Limited, a subsidiary of Resonance Limited, is authorized and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Firm number 588462.
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