Unlock has now been a charity for fifteen years. To mark the occasion, supporters and beneficiaries joined staff, trustees, patrons, Peers and volunteers at a reception hosted by our President, Lord Ramsbotham.
With the kind permission of The Lord Speaker, Baroness D’Souza, Lord Ramsbotham sponsored our use of the stunning House of Lords River Room; a room reserved primarily for functions held by UK charities, which Lord Ramsbotham described as the loveliest room in the whole of the House. In his welcome speech to guests, he talked about his involvement with Unlock from its beginning and how we have achieved so much whilst remaining true to our founding principal that people with convictions remain at the heart of the charity. Moreover, we have come to play a valuable role in informing government policy by bringing to it a unique insight informed by the experience of thousands of people who we support.
A point similarly acknowledged by one of our guest speakers, Andrew Selous MP, Minister for Prisons, Probation and Rehabilitation. With rehabilitation very much at the top of the Minister’s agenda, he described how impressed he was with Unlock’s past and present work and how important it was that we continue. Remarking on a recent visit to a prison, he had been impressed to find prisoners there opening bank accounts as an important part of their pre-release planning, acknowledging how having an account underpinned their ability to get jobs, accommodation and access to services that would be essential in reducing the likelihood of them re-offending. He paid tribute to Unlock’s work with banks, government and prisons that introduced the, now, routine practice. The Minister went on to stress the importance of employment for people with convictions and was keen to learn more about Unlock’s work to challenge and support employers in changing the way employers manage their employment practices.
Another guest speaker was Catherine Sermon, Employment Director of Business in the Community. Catherine echoed the Minister’s emphasis on the importance of employment and in particular, of the work Unlock is doing alongside the BITC to change the way employers set about recruitment by its ‘Ban the Box’ approach. That is, to remove the tick-box on application forms that asks people to declare unspent convictions and deferring it to a later stage when an individual’s application had been judged solely on merit and a candidate invited for interview or even offered the job.
The room was then moved to hear two people – Donald and Sam (names changed to protect their identities) – describe their experience of how it feels to be judged on their past convictions when looking for work and how Unlock had helped them both practically and emotionally to move on positively in their lives. It was humbling to listen to them talk about how their lives had been made better by the work we do. There were a few tissues being discreetly applied to eyes all around the room!
Our final speaker was one of our newer trustees – Val Woodcock. Val had found Unlock after seeing the effect that having a conviction had been on a family friend. She recounted how she learned first-hand how her friend found living with a conviction was as bad if not worse than his time in prison. It was a double-punishment. A story we hear time and again from people coming to us for help.
Meeting so many of the people who support Unlock and also the people we in turn help, was a very special occasion. The charity has come a long way in the past fifteen years and we’ve achieved some outstanding successes along the way. We’re grateful to everyone who came along and helped us mark this milestone and to all those who were unable to come but who continue to support the work we do.
We look forward to the next fifteen years!
Written by Julie Harmsworth, Co-Director of Unlock