• Companies from across Northern Ireland have been exploring the benefits of hiring people leaving the justice system at an event which heard from the Chief Executive Officer of Greggs plc and the Director of Rehabilitation at Iceland.

    The event, run by The Turnaround Project and held at digital transformation company Version 1’s Belfast headquarters, brought together companies from all sectors – retail, law, IT, food service and others - and highlighted the wealth of untapped talent amongst those who have been through the justice system.

    Related: A conversation with some of Northern Ireland’s female leaders in tech

    Organisations which have already hired people with criminal records including Greggs, Iceland and local company idverde, talked through the process of hiring and urged others to diversify their workforce and develop a culture of inclusion and fairness.

    Roisin Currie, Chief Executive of leading food-to-go retailer Greggs plc which has been hiring returning citizens since 2010, said the firm’s Fresh Start scheme, which supports ex-military and the long-term unemployed has been a considerable success.

    She commented: “We know the passion and energy for work that comes from people who are given an opportunity to kick-start their careers or to turn their lives around. We believe passionately in giving people a 'fresh start' and have been rewarded tenfold by the dedication which has been shown by those colleagues who have joined us having previously been in the justice system.”

    The event also heard from a former prisoner in the form of Paul Cowley, Director of Rehabilitation at Iceland. Having spent time in prison in North West England, Paul had a career in the army and became a Church of England priest before being recruited by Iceland’s founder Sir Malcolm Walker.  In his role at the retailer, he conducts interviews with people in prisons across England for potential roles in Iceland food stores and warehouses.

    “The continued contraction of the labour market has been an issue for companies in all sectors in recent years. A simple solution is for employers to tap into the rich seam of talent from the pool of people who have served their sentences and who deserve to be given a second chance,” said Paul Cowley, Director of Rehabilitation at Iceland. “Our experience has been overwhelmingly positive and there is little doubt that the colleagues who have joined us from the justice system have played a significant role in boosting Iceland’s bottom line. Our workforce has been hugely enriched and I would urge other companies to do the same.”

    Lorna McAdoo, Head of Environmental, Social and Governance at Version 1 said: “We are pleased to have hosted today’s event and to hear first-hand about the benefits of hiring from this very rich talent pool. The experience of those companies who have led the way in recruiting people leaving the justice system is compelling, not just from an operational perspective but also because it is the right thing to do, a very real consideration in today’s world and one we at Version 1 take extremely seriously.”

    The event was organised by The Turnaround Project, a charity registered in Northern Ireland, that provides hope and opportunity to enable people who have served sentences in the criminal justice system to turn around their futures.

    Richard Good, Director at the Turnaround Project, said: “The Turnaround Project’s mission is to work with society to enable people who have been through the justice system to turn around their futures.  The companies who presented at today’s event have proven that giving jobs to people who have served sentences can help employers with their recruitment needs, and provide hope and opportunity to people who want to turn their lives around.  We are looking forward to working with these and other employers to enable people to enter the world of work.”

    Other speakers on the day included representatives from idverde, a landscaping company which has been taking the lead in hiring people from the justice system.

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