Where it all started
This vision came as a result of the death of my (Josee) son, in August 2006 and the belief that some good would come from this tragedy. In the three years prior to his accident, Bobby became friends with a large group of young folk from a nearby council estate known locally as the “YLT”, and he went from being a very clean-living, studious boy to skipping school and involvement with, drink, drugs and crime. His death was a direct cause of the lifestyle he led. Ironically, it also led to the family forming deep bonds with these gang members whom up to that time were very much kept at a distance. These “rough diamonds” were a major support and source of comfort in our loss and grief. They were so faithful and loyal in visiting for years after his death, even to this present day and their love and commitment to Bobby is amazing.
It wasn’t until July 2012, that I began to understand some of the reasons behind the difficulties people with convictions (PWCs) have to get a job interview let alone a job. My idea was to set up businesses that would actually hire PWCs to give them a chance that most businesses would not consider.
As I started to explore this issue more fully, I learned of the overwhelming need to help those with a criminal record get back into employment, and that next to homelessness, unemployment is the biggest contributing factor to re-offending. I began to understand why so many of my son’s friends were involved in this lifestyle of crime and cycle of re-offending; with that grew the desire to help them and others in the same situation.
My idea was to set up businesses that would actually hire PWCs to give them a chance that most businesses would not consider.
Creating a solution
Freedom initially supported a small group of gifted young tradesmen who had previously been part of the YLT group but had begun to take positive steps to change their lives around. Now they are inspiring their friends to consider a different approach within the framework of legitimacy that is part of Freedom’s core value system. We have discovered the natural entrepreneurial talents of some of our people who are street-wise and have lived by their wits since their early years. They are full of ideas and we channel these positively so that their true potential can be unlocked.
Freedom has been in discussions with Scottish Prison Service (SPS) in relation to link businesses that will deliver a program of employment transition from a business within prison walls to one on the outside. This is already a proven model with Timpson’s and Freedom Bakery, and is expanding further with other social enterprises. It offers a working solution to re-offending.
In the last two years, the social enterprise sector has shown increased interest in supporting PWCs and is now actively engaged with the SPS and other sectors to develop and grow sustainable businesses specifically to provide employment for PWCs. As we grow and develop our businesses we will make a significant change in the lives of individuals, and in turn, have a greater impact on local community and society to greatly reduce crime and re-offending.
“Seamless Transitions” is our first business that began by making memory cushions for those who have lost loved ones. This is an important link with the core inspiration of love, loyalty and loss that is behind the foundation of Freedom Unlimited Enterprises. We have expanded our range to include high-end Scottish themed cushions of the finest quality. We can provide training in sewing skills and provide employment primarily for women. In 2017 we began a pilot delivering sewing training to women at HMP Edinburgh. It has been received with enthusiasm from both inmates and staff alike. The women are talented and creative, and have something to look forward to each week as they learn new skills and build up their self esteem and confidence.
Our second start up business is “Crafted with Conviction™”, a wood workshop that makes products from reclaimed timber. We have developed a small range of products which are currently being market tested. We are excited about launching our product range in the new year.
We were on “Launch Me” accelerator programme and have been described as one of the “15 most ambitious social entrepreneurs in Scotland”. This programme was designed to help us grow our business and attract investment for expansion. We’ve received a lot of professional mentoring, advice and support throughout the year and are now at a stage in the programme where we are getting investment ready. The opportunities for big business to invest in social enterprise through the new Social Investment Tax Relief Scheme is very attractive and has generated interest from ‘Angel Investors’. It has also enabled us to get some good publicity that has added to a substantial network that we have invested a lot of energy into establishing over the last 3 years.
We have been supported by most sectors from the start and we are very appreciative to those who have opened doors of influence for FUE to share our story and make something that started as a bit of a dream into something real and tangible. It is making a difference to individuals as well as gaining some momentum in larger circles of Criminal Justice and government as they see it as a positive solution to re-offending, and are beginning to implement changes across all sectors that engage with and support people with convictions.