It’s not often you see those three elements in a blog title – so what have Ed Sheeran, jerk chicken and choral singing in common? Add in residents from HMP Birmingham, entrepreneurship, mentors, business pitches and hope for the future and you get an electrifying mix.
What you get is the Restart programme.
On Tuesday 30 April, families, friends, mentors, supporters and staff from businesses involved in Restart, gathered at HMP Birmingham to celebrate the completion of the programme for some of the residents, and a chance to hear their ideas for the businesses they plan on release.
But Restart – and what the men had achieved – is so much more than that. Restart brings together the charity Beating Time, Enterprise Inspiration (a community interest company providing training advice for offenders and ex-prisoners to move into self-employment) and ourselves.
The figures are stark. About 85,000 people come out of UK prisons each year – most of them do not find work. Around half re-offend.
Restart works to readdress that balance.
Our part in the programme is to provide business advice to those residents who are approaching release, alongside Enterprise Inspiration. Our directors, Phil and Benna work with the prisoners on business plans, pitches and cashflow as well as supporting and developing life skills. Mentors from KPMG also work with the prisoners spending time with individuals honing their plans and looking to how the ideas can become reality on release.
Restart is also able to give grants to ex-offenders giving that valuable financial boost that every start-up values.
However, all this business advice and support would come to nothing if the people we work with had no self-belief or vision about just what they may achieve.
This is where choral singing fits in.
Restart runs in prisons for 15 weeks and the business support runs alongside choir practices. Being part of a choir provides the participants with a community and a goal to work towards. Singing unlocks creativity, helping the feelings of self-worth grow and an understanding that it’s possible to rely on other people to support you.
The concert on 30 April was a celebration of what the current cohort at HMP Birmingham had achieved. After just weeks of rehearsal, the choir – led by musical director Pete Churchill from Beating Time – stepped onto the stage in the newly refurbished recreation space to perform. They had chosen a range of popular songs, with several men stepping forward to sing on their own.
None of these residents had sung with a choir before. But the results were uplifting and moving.
At one point, one of the choir members had a solo in the Ed Sheeran song, Perfect. For one small moment it looked like the occasion was just a bit overwhelming. So much was a stake here, not ‘just’ stepping forward to sing a line or two.
A gentle touch of a hand on the small of his back from a fellow choir member was all he needed. Support, friendship, guidance all there in a single gesture.
But there was more to this event. Interspersed between songs four men also pitched their business ideas – a plan for retro sweets sold in shops and online, a barber shop and tattoo parlour embedded in a local community, a recruitment agency for ex-offenders and Jamaican street food for the heart of Birmingham.
Each of the business pitches were of the highest standard and presenting in such an environment asked a lot of each entrepreneur. But everyone stepped up to the mark.
After the concert, we were invited to sample some of the amazing jerk chicken, curries and wraps from the Jamaican street food range. It was also a real pleasure to see the resident behind this initiative receive a cheque for £5,000 towards start-up costs when he leaves HMP Birmingham soon.
The power of this programme is such that Enterprise Exchange Directors, Phil and Benna, decided that their core team should take time out from their busy work schedules to attend the concert. To say everyone was all blown away by the singing, pitches and positivity is an understatement.
We are very proud to be part of the Restart programme and continue to be inspire by the courage, determination and ambition of the residents we work with.