- Idea initially came about after the Environment Agency approached Newcastle Youth Offending Team about "cleaning up" local waterways
- Young people taking part display far lower rates of reoffending
The Skill Mill is a not-for-profit social enterprise that provides employment for young ex-offenders aged 16 to 18 in environmental maintenance work.
It aims to bring social and environmental benefits to local communities by helping to reduce flood risks and improve the local environment at the same time as helping young people gain skills and experience in the delivery of services.
Young employees acquire knowledge and skills by working alongside local private contractors and partners, while undertaking accredited training to achieve a nationally recognised qualification. Follow-on employment opportunities with partner organisations and the wider labour market are sought for each young person taking part.
The idea initially came about after the Environment Agency approached Newcastle Youth Offending Team (YOT) about "cleaning-up" local waterways. In 2013, the YOT organised sessions whereby young offenders would work for three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon on watercourse tasks for between 12 and 20 weeks. It became evident that reoffending rates for young people taking part were lower than the national average.
The Skill Mill was launched to provide young people taking part in the sessions with progression routes into employment. The first site was set up in Newcastle in 2014, but others have since been established in Liverpool, Leeds, Durham, North Yorkshire and even in the Estonian capital, Tallinn.
Each of the English sites takes on four young people for six months at a time, during which they are paid minimum wage rates, receive practical work experience, get a nationally recognised qualification, and further opportunities for progression with local companies at the end of their time with the programme.
They are selected on the basis of a combination of attitude, skills, punctuality and vulnerability. Those who are "work ready" are not selected, but those who need extra assistance to find work are.
"The young people we choose are all young people who have been serious and or prolific in their offending, preferably with experience of custody," says Davie Parks, founder of the Skill Mill.
"It is not for low-level offenders at the bottom end of the system. The idea is that the young people progress into a job with one of our partner organisations, or in the wider job market."
A further six sites are due to launch in the next year - in Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Nottingham, Surrey and Croydon - funded through a social impact bond from the government's Life Chances Fund, an £80m fund to provide payment-by-results contracts for locally developed projects.
Parks says the initiative has become popular, due to the positive experiences of those who have taken part. "It works because young people really appreciate the opportunity and enjoy the fact it is meaningful work and they are getting paid up to £170 a week," he says.
"They don't really care too much about getting a qualification, but we do, so they get that as well.
The young people talk about being in touch with nature. They say it is something they get a lot out of and many have reported improved relationships with their families. But the most important thing is that they stop offending."
So far across the five English Skill Mill teams, a total of 96 young people have taken part, with just 11 going on to reoffend within 12 months - a reoffending rate of 11.5 per cent. Only one of the young people who reoffended committed a more serious offence than the one they were originally convicted for.
This compares with a national reoffending rate of 42.2 per cent for young people convicted of an offence. The reoffending rate for those released from custody is even higher at 68.1 per cent.
"Most young people have been [in youth custody] on a detention and training order at some point. We target the top 10 per cent of young people coming through youth offending teams. They are in the cohort where reoffending rates are over 50 per cent."
Parks says the initiative is focusing on full-time employment opportunities once the six-month placement ends, and that, across the five sites in England, the last cohort of 20 young people all went on to find employment.
- The Skill Mill won the Youth Justice Award at the CYP Now Awards 2014