Timpson have recruited 270 members of their staff from jail, many working in the day and returning to their cell at night.
Key cutting company 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.
Russell Zecanovsky, 40, is one of these people. He runs the shop just outside Wimbledon station. “I think 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.” His crimes were mainly drug-related. “Last time I was inside for growing cannabis,” he says. “They said we had a million pounds worth. We didn’t, it was half that probably. We’d rented a five-bedroom house and set it up there.”
Zecanovsky got 30 months in Wandsworth prison. “If I’d just come out again I would have probably fallen back into the same routine,” he says. “You go to job interviews and they ask you if you’ve got a criminal conviction and if you say yes you’re immediately at the bottom of the pile. There’s no rehabilitation for prisoners outside prison apart from companies like Timpson that are prepared to give you the chance.”
The son of Timpson’s chairman John Timpson, James, who is responsible for the employment of former prisoners. He began employing these people 10 years ago. “I was invited to go round Thorncross in Warrington,” speaking to The Telegraph, he says. “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. He’s brilliant.”
Timpson says that he did come across some obstacles when recruiting former prisoners and some of them didn’t work out quite as well as Zecanovsky. Due to this he kept the fact he was employing former prisoners from everyone except his dad. After he had hired “10 good one” out of around 40 recruits he told the Timpson’s senior team. Whilst this was first met with controversy, they soon realised that the former prisoners were actually good employees.
Timpson’s now work with around 70 prisons, mainly category C or D which are more relaxed closed and open prisons. They also have three “academies” where prisoner can learn the trade. These academies are in Liverpool, New Hall and Blantyre House jails. Interviews take about 10 minutes. “It is important how they tell me about their offence,” says 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.” He avoids “anything to do with gangs” but “we have a few murderers. Those guys I specifically vet. The only ones we employ are someone who murdered their next door neighbour because he was abusing his daughter and a couple of ladies who murdered their partners due to physical violence against them.
“Mostly though it’s acquisitive crime or drugs. There’s a similar pattern: in care or failed at school, got in with a bad lot, started drugs, drinking, nicking cars, got banged up. Most people we have been to prison more than once. But they get to a stage where they want to get a job and be normal and stop the chaos.”
Zecanovsky says that due to his “way of life was if someone does you a favour you owe them. Timpson’s done me a big favour. I’d never do anything to upset them.” Timpson says he believes that this is why these employees are more loyal and therefore more trusted.