Mildon Diversity and Inclusion Consultancy

Ep. 33: Rip it Up and Start Again

Speaker 1: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon. Future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.
Toby Mildon: Hello there. Thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon, and today I’m joined by Darren Burns. Darren works for Timpsons. And it’s great to have you on the show, Darren.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Thank you Toby. Great to be here.
Speaker 1: Okay. So, Darren, can you just let us know a bit about what you do at Timpsons and how you got into your current role?
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Yes. So, I’m really lucky. I genuinely believe I’ve got the best job in the world. So I’ve got quite a long pompous title, so I’m known as the National Recruitment Ambassador. But all that means essentially is that I find amazing colleagues to join the Timpson business. I think my primary role is to look after the Timpson Foundation, and the Timpson Foundation, we provide training, and employment opportunities for marginalized groups, predominantly ex-offenders. So I get to spend lots of my time meeting amazing people with super interesting stories. Typically we find them at their lowest points in their lives, and we kinda pat them down and and we give them a second chance, and we bring them into our business. When they’re there, we give them all the support, guidance and everything necessary for them to make a success in our business. So yeah, that’s pretty much what I do in a nutshell.
Toby Mildon: That’s really cool. And for the person listening to this episode, they might not be aware of what Timpsons is, so can you just give us a quick rundown of what your business is?
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Yeah, of course. Happy to. So, Timpsons are one of the oldest family-owned businesses in the UK. We were founded back in 1865. We are currently the largest service retailer in the UK. We employ 5,500 colleagues, and we’ve got in excess of 2,500 outlets throughout the country. So it’s important to know that it’s not just the Timpson business. I work for the Timpson Group, or part of the Timpson Group. You’ve got lots of other businesses which fall under our banner. So we’ve got Max Spielmann who are our photo experts. We’ve also got Snappy Snaps who are predominately based in the south. Max Spielmann tend to be based in the north although they are kinda encroaching now all over the UK. In addition to that, we own Johnsons, the cleaners. We own Jeeves Of Belgravia who are kinda high-end dry cleaners. We’ve got the largest mobile locksmith business in the UK. And in addition to that, we own a number of pubs and restaurants throughout the country.
Toby Mildon: That’s very cool, ’cause I didn’t realize that Timpsons had so many businesses to its name. ’cause I always associated it with the retail units that you have near train stations and in shopping centers to get your keys cut and your shoes cleaned and repaired.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Yeah. It’s always interesting to me because whenever I tell people I work for Timpson, you’re quite right, the misconception is, is that we’re kind of a small franchise business, and you see these small kiosks in train stations, but we couldn’t be further from the truth to it. We’re a large successful business, family-run and owned. And as I’ve just explain then, we’ve got lots of other businesses that come under our umbrella. So yeah, quite a big business, really.
Toby Mildon: So the reason why I’m so excited about talking to you today is because of what Timpsons does around employing ex-offenders. Not many businesses have a program for recruiting ex-offenders. And I think there’s a lot of fear as well amongst some businesses that I’ve talked about, about recruiting people with a criminal record. So why does Timpsons employ ex-offenders?
Darren Burns From Timpsons: I think it’s important really to give some background as to how the whole thing started before we go into the reasons why, if that’s okay with you, Toby.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: So, the Timpson Foundation was founded by our CEO, my boss, James Timpson, who is super passionate about prison reform and giving people a second chance, really. Back in 2002, James was invited to a local prison in the north-west of England, HMP Thorn Cross. It was James’ first time in a prison. I think it’s fair to say he didn’t really know what to expect. James was shown around the prison by a serving inmate, a young guy called Matt. James really liked Matt. He thought he was very intelligent, very articulate, and thought he’d be a great addition to our business. So probably a huge breach of security, but James kinda passed him a business card and said, “Matt, when you get released, give me a call and we’ll see if we can get you a job.” James was good to his word, as was Matt. And a few months later, Matt had come to work at a Timpson business. And from that moment on, James thought, “Well, if there’s one really good guy like Matt in one small prison in the Northwest of England, surely there’s gonna be hundreds, if not thousands of people who just need that opportunity, just need that second chance. And from that moment on, we began to proactively recruit ex-offenders into the Timpson business.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: I’m very proud to say that we are now one of, if not the largest employer of ex-offenders in the UK. Currently about 10% of our workforce are made up of people who we’ve either recruited directly from prison or who’ve declared they’ve got an offending background. And that roughly equates to about 650 people who work across the business in various roles. However, there’s actually more people with an offending background who work in the business, because people kinda drop off that list. We refer them as foundation colleagues, but people drop off that list naturally after kind of a two year service. So, in actual fact, we estimate we’ve probably got more about maybe 1200, 1300 people across the business who’ve got an offending background.
Toby Mildon: So, what kind of advantages are you seeing by recruiting ex-offenders, and how do they add to the business?
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Huge advantage. So, we basically split this into kinda three main areas. So that the first benefits of employing ex-offenders, for us, is that we genuinely believe it’s the right thing to do for kinda society. If you bear in mind, Toby, that there’s 11 million people currently in the UK with a conviction more serious than a driving offense, so that’s roughly one-sixth of the UK population. So for us as an employer, to throw one-sixth of the population on the employment scrapheap and assume that they’re worthless. They’re are inherently dishonest, they’ve got nothing to offer, they can’t make any positive contributions, we just think it’s madness. And where lots of other employers will actively discriminate against this cohort, their loss is our gain because we kind of look past that. And what we don’t tend to do is focus on people’s pasts but where they’re going in the future.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: So that obviously is our main benefit. The other benefit to society as well is that, re-offending is reported to cost the UK taxpayer £18 billion a year, which is kind of made up of custody costs, probation costs, police costs and the fact that these people, if they were working before they went into custody, aren’t obviously contributing to the tax system whilst they’re in there. So, anything we can do to divert people away from crime and back into employment, everybody wins, including the taxpayer. I think it’s kind of widely accepted that employment is a key factor to reducing re-offending. Statistically, 61% of prison leavers will re-offend within two years of leaving custody and that’s been proven to be reduced to 19% of people who’ve got full-time employment. So there’s clear evidence there that employment is a key factor to stop people offending. It’s not the only factor, but it’s a very important one. People also need obviously, somewhere safe to live and they need the support of their friends and family as well. But obviously on the back of all that, if people are committing less crime, then our communities are safer and most importantly of all, there are fewer victims. One of the other reasons we do it as well is because it’s good for the individuals that we help.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Obviously the fact that they’re not going into prison anymore means that they can lead kind of normal, law-abiding lives. They can achieve more and their families also benefit massively too. Obviously as you can imagine, if you do get sent to prison, that means often that you can’t see your loved ones, your children, which has a huge detrimental impact on kind of the family life. So anything we can do to divert people away from crime, the individual benefits. But I think if I’m being completely honest with you Toby, I think the real reason we do this and we’re so good at it, is because we’ve identified early on, that it’s really good for our business. We don’t shy away from the fact in Timpsons, that we are first and foremost, a commercial business, we’re not a charity. And these people that we employ from these marginalized backgrounds, do exceptionally well in our business, and that’s because they are highly loyal. They stay with us longer than colleagues recruited from all other streams. They are highly productive. Statistically, they are more honest, which is an interesting one.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: I get reports every year from our Head of Security, and that tells me how many people we’ve kind of, dismissed for gross misconduct or, stealing from the till essentially. And the number of foundation colleagues or ex-offender colleagues that would get dismissed for that offense, just pales into insignificance compared to colleagues that we’ve recruited from more regular streams. So yeah, statistically, these people are more honest. We believe the reason for that is because they’ve often been turned down again and again by other employers and when we give them that trust and we show them, that we’re giving them opportunities, they’re very reluctant to kind of go back and not to mess it up and they grab on to these opportunities with both hands.
Toby Mildon: It just sounds like a… Just seems like an absolute no-brainer to me.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: It really does. These people tend to be more resilient as well, and that’s often because they’ve been through sort of hellish times in prison. And if you can deal with that, if you can go through a prison sentence and come out and everything that it entails, then anything we could throw at them, they tend to deal with it quite easily. Another kind of interesting, quite amusing, reason why we take in ex-offenders as well, is that we find that lots of ex-offenders are able to turn their criminal tendencies, into kind of entrepreneurship. An example I would give, if we employ somebody who’s been convicted of dealing drugs, obviously as a drug dealer, they’d be doing deals with amounts of drugs with lots of customers and this, that and the other, and they are able to very quickly use their transferable skills if you like, and instead of doing deals with drugs, they’re now doing deals with our customers. So we’ll cut you a key, we’ll cut you the second one at half price, we’ll repair one pair of shoes with a second pair of shoes, we’ll repair for free. And all these sorts of deals. So as I said, they’re able to turn their criminal tendencies into entrepreneurship which is a huge benefit to our business.
Toby Mildon: That’s really cool. It reminds me, this is such a huge cliche, but it reminds me of the CIA employing hackers to increase security for the US.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Exactly.
Toby Mildon: They’re using their criminal tendencies to hack into banks and things like that, but using it for security instead.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Yeah. Makes perfect sense. Certainly doing wonders for our business.
Toby Mildon: So what are some of the concerns that you hear other employers having about recruiting ex-offenders, ’cause you’ve embraced it wholeheartedly but, I imagine that you’ve come across other employers that have got fears or concerns and what are some of those things?
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Yeah I think I spend lots of my time, Toby, essentially doing consultancy for other businesses, so what we try and do is we try and encourage them and help them to see the benefits of working with these marginalized groups. But you’re quite right, I mean, some of the questions we get asked are, “Can you guarantee me that if I challenge one of these people for being late or for a minor disciplinary issue, can you guarantee me that they are not going to assault me or head-butt me? Can you guarantee me that they’re not gonna pinch my wallet or my handbag from the staff room?” All these sorts of questions, which, I don’t like to call them daft questions, but obviously the answer is, is that we can’t give any guarantees. But we can’t give guarantees with anyone, because it’s free will and, people will be people. All we do is we give them positive examples. I mean for all the years we’ve been doing this now, we’ve literally never encountered any of that. We’ve never had any kind of major emergencies with the people we’ve taken on.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: We’ve never had any instances of our colleagues being assaulted by people we recruit from prison. We haven’t had any examples of any kind of personal thefts. We’ve had people pinching money out of the till, but we get more people pinching money out of our tills who we recruit through the job center. So we’re just try to allay these fears and we just explain to them that, these people are essentially just people. Often, they’ve made bad choices. Often they’ve made mistakes, but we just ask people to kind of overlook the headlines of what these people have done and just try and speak to them and establish what kind of mindset they were in at the time when they were making these offenses and more importantly, what’s changed?
Toby Mildon: Yeah if I think employers can just move beyond those obstacles and those fears, then they can tap into a huge amount of potential that you outlined earlier, like the statistics that you shared with us, they’re just staggering, and they’re just to me, they’re just a no brainer, really for the success of businesses.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Yeah, completely. I think one of the most frustrating things for us as a business, when we’re working with other organizations, is that they often present us with these HR policies, which say that they cannot employ ex-offenders. And in our experience, these policies were written 25, 30 years ago, in some cases, they’re just not really… They don’t really stand up to any scrutiny. So we just advise people to take these policies, tear them up and start again. As I mentioned before, there’s one sixth of the UK population with a conviction more serious than a driving offence. So there’s just a huge untapped pool of talents out there. At the prisons at the moment, we’ve got about 84,000 prisoners. So there’s just lots of really good people who just need that opportunity.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. Absolutely. I know… Timpsons is famous for its ex-offenders program, but you do other talent programs. Can you let us know what you do, what else you do?
Darren Burns From Timpsons: We do… Yeah. So, it’s… I think with the ex-offenders, you’re quite right, we’re more well known for that. But we also work with military veterans. So we’ve partnered up with a number of agencies and military charities, and our policy at the moment is that we will guarantee any service leaver an interview with Timpsons. And again, we find that lots of people who’ve left the force is a really good fit for our business, and that’s because essentially, some of the old cliches, these people tend to be very presentable, they tend to be very punctual, they’re very ambitious and very hard working. So again we find that these guys are a really good fit for our business. We also deal with long term unemployed people who’ve been out able of the labor market for some time, and again, there’s, what we found is that self esteem and self worth can be so low in some of these people, if you haven’t worked for kind of 10 years, 12 years. So by us gently kind of introducing them into our business and back into the world of work, they are just so grateful and they ending being fantastic colleagues. We also work with disabled people, we’ve worked with Mencap in the past, we work with an organization called Work Fit, and we’ve got a number of Down syndrome colleagues who work in our HQ which is Timpsons house in Wythenshawe, in various roles.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: We also work with a number of charities which support refugees, we’ve taken on a number of Syrian refugees over the last couple of years, again, all gone on to do fabulous things in our business, gone on to get promoted and work in various roles. We’ve also got our own company charity, which is called the Alex Timpson trust, and what we do there is we champion opportunities for looked after children, so people who’ve been through the care system, and again, we employ them, lots of the people in care, unfortunately, are over represented in custody as well. So we’ve come across lots of people who’ve been in the care system in prisons, so we give them opportunities, and again, because we are showing these people that the kind of trust in giving them these opportunities to improve their lives, it works very well for our business.
Toby Mildon: I think what’s really cool is that you’ve got all of these talent schemes, but what also is really good is that the culture of your organization is very familial, and inclusive, and it’s just, it’s just become very normalized, and how do you think the Timpsons’ culture has got to that point?
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Well it’s something Toby, if I’m being honest with you, I can’t take any credit for, our CEO James Timpson, he’s such an amazing leader. And as I mentioned before, James is super passionate, not only about prison reform, but about helping some of these other hard to reach marginalized groups, because of James genuine belief and the way James leads, it just becomes easy. So you’re quite right, all this stuff that we do is kind of completely normalized and embedded now within our culture. I think, going back to the ex-offender piece, when James first took on Matt, back in 2002, James was faced with a decision, his initial thought was to kind of sneak Matt into the business and say, “Matt, for God’s sake, don’t tell anybody you’re from prison that it would cause chaos.” But James didn’t do that, James was kinda true to his beliefs, and James announced to the whole business that “We are going to be working with people with an offending background, you’ll basically have to like it, get on with it, embrace it, or find your happiness elsewhere.”
[chuckle]
Darren Burns From Timpsons: And that kind of leadership from James is just permeated throughout the whole business, and you’re quite right to say now it’s just very, very normal. Any of our colleagues that you speak to in any of our branches across all of our businesses, if you speak to them about working with ex-offenders or ex-veterans or disabled people, it’s just completely normal to them. And they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, I work with Dave, who was in prison, I work with Jane, who is an ex military veteran.” And it’s just a really normal thing to do for us.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. And, but like you say it started from the top of the organization, bold leadership to say, we are being inclusive in this case of somebody who’s an ex-offender, whether you like it or not, this is what I want the culture of my organization to be, and then it’s permeated from there. I think that’s a really key takeaway of that, that senior bold sponsorship driving it.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. And I’m not oblivious to the fact that we’re in a really fortunate position that we are a family owned and run business. So whatever. James Timpson, our CEO, and John Timpson, our chairman, want to do, and whichever direction they want to take the business in, we all get on board with it, and we don’t have any shareholders that we need to placate. So we’re able to make these decisions and up to now, it’s proven extremely positive.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. So I really hope that the person listening to this conversation today realizes that employing ex offenders is a no brainer for businesses. What is your advice to them on what they should do to start helping their business employ ex-offenders?
Darren Burns From Timpsons: I think one of the first things we always kind of advise businesses who are keen to get into this space is to make an appointment to visit one of your local prisons. I mean offenders suffer with this horrific kinda stigma, so people think that everybody in prison is kind of a heavily tattooed thug who can’t string a sentence together, they’re dangerous and they’re not to be trusted. Nothing could be farther from the truth. So we invite people to go into their local prisons, make contact with the resettlement department, every prison’s got a resettlement department. Make contact with somebody in that local prison, go in for a visit, meet some of the men and some of the women. And very very quickly, you’ll realize that these people haven’t got two heads, they’re just normal people like you and I, who’ve made a bad choice or a series of bad choices. But if you show them that trust and give them the that opportunity, it can work wonders for your business.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: There’s lots of kind of other organizations set up to help smooth the transition as well, so I sit on the leadership panel for an organization called EFFRR, which stands for the Employers’ Forum for Reducing Re-offending, and this essentially is kinda a collection of forward-thinking businesses who meet every month. And we kind of spend lots of our time encouraging other businesses to move into this space and see beyond the headlines and offer people opportunities. There’s also a fantastic initiative run by the Ministry of Justice, called the New Futures Network. These guys are specifically set up to help employers that… To go into prison and to remove any of the barriers, if you like. So employers can go into a prison, identify talent and bring these people out of custody directly into the workplace, and they’ve got lots of fantastic information on their websites.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant, so the person listening to our conversation today, should get in touch with EFFRR and the New Futures Network, as well as forming some links with a prison that’s close to them.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: Absolutely, just to touch on a point I made earlier, Toby, as well, it’s HR policies, lots of businesses just think that they actually can’t do this because of their HR policies, which are essentially defunct, often written a long time ago, aren’t really relevant in today’s society. So if that is an obstacle and a barrier, we just urge people to take their policies, tear them up, and rewrite them, make them more relevant, and then all of a sudden, these kind of opportunities can present themselves.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely, believe me, there’s lots of policies that we need to… When it comes to diversity and inclusion, there’s load of policies that we just need to rip up and start again and make sure that diversity and inclusion is embedded in those policies and documents. Before we go Darren, this is The Inclusive Growth Show. I’m interested in hearing what your thoughts are on what inclusive growth is?
Darren Burns From Timpsons: I think inclusive growth in our business is just providing opportunities for everybody as our business has become more successful over the years. So has kind of the investment that we’ve made for our colleagues, I think lots of other businesses make the mistake of essentially just not treating their colleagues well enough. What we believe is by recruiting from a diverse range of kinda backgrounds, it just enriches our business completely, and has taken us into all sorts of weird and wonderful directions, which have been nothing but beneficial for our organization, but for me, it’s all about taking care of your colleagues. I mean, we do wonderful things. We’ve got lots of financial benefits, lots of welfare benefits. I’ll touch on some of the kind of headline-grabbing ones if you want, so Timpsons colleagues, for example, they never work their birthday, they always get their birthday off. If any Timpsons colleagues get married, they get a week off work.
Toby Mildon: Wow.
Darren Burns From Timpsons: They get £100 bonus in their wages, and they get to use the company limousine as the wedding car. We’ve got interest-free staff loans. So if any of our colleagues need a loan, they’ve got an emergency, if the boiler breaks, the car breaks down, anything like that, we kinda offer them interest-free loans. We have holiday homes throughout the UK and Europe which are free to use for our colleagues and their families. We do a great scheme called Dreams Come True, whereby colleagues across the business write in to James. It can be absolutely anything. It could be, “Dear James, me and my family have always wanted to visit Disney World in Florida,” or go on a Caribbean cruise, all sorts of weird and wonderful things, and we’re able to make that happen. Some of the ones I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with through the foundation, we’ve paid court fines for people, we’ve paid for cosmetics surgery for people, we’ve paid for IVF, which is quite a nice one, so we’ve got, a few Timpsons babies now, which we’ve helped sow. It’s just really good to look after your colleagues, and not only do we believe it’s the right thing to do, kindness is just kind of a key element of our culture, but it’s also good for business as well, ’cause it stands to reason, if you look after your colleagues, they’re gonna look after you and work hard for you.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. I love it, I love it. I’m really tempted to come and work for Timpsons now, I’m just gonna shut up my own business and come and work for you guys ’cause it just sounds brilliant. Darren, thank you ever so much for joining me on today’s episode, I’ve loved talking to you and I just find some of the numbers that you’ve shared with me around employing ex-offenders just completely and utterly staggering, and it’s just a no-brainer that businesses need to employ ex-offenders and if necessary, just rip up their policies and start again. So thank you for sharing that with us, and thank you for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I hope you enjoyed Darren and me talking today.
Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.

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