When we meet with Derek Gates, 43, at HLNY CRC’s offices in Hull he is already deep in conversation with Callum, a young offender under probation with HLNY after being convicted of drug dealing.
Callum, a shy young man, struggles to make eye contact but Derek gently teases a response from him as they go through an employability plan – identifying Callum’s strengths and weaknesses, identifying potential obstacles to job seeking and setting some simple goals.
Derek reminds Callum of the employability training over the next couple of days urging him to turn up and be fully engaged in the whole process. “Don’t worry,” Derek tells Callum, “I know it sounds really boring but it’s not like being in a classroom, everyone will join in and you’ll learn to do simple things which will make finding and getting a job much easier.”
Derek, himself a former offender, now works as a Social Employment Advisor for Offploy, who are currently running a pilot programme in Hull to help offenders back into the workplace.
Offploy specialises placing ex-offenders in the workplace. One side of Offploy recruits personnel for the criminal justice sector, with the fees earned helping to fund the other arm of the business, which helps prisoners who have just been released and those with criminal convictions to find work.
Two years after it was set up, by former West Yorkshire CRC service user Jacob Hill, Offploy has found work for over 100 people with convictions.
At the end of their meeting in Hull Callum and Derek have agreed a 12-month plan to support him on the road to a full-time job this includes gaining a Construction Skills Certification Scheme card; embarking on a stevedoring course on Hull docks; a two-day employability course; staying in regular contact with his case manager and employability adviser and engaging with probation and Offploy.
“I am living proof that you can turn around your life around. It can be done even when you’re still inside prison,” says Derek. “I’ve got a job with Offploy and I work with HLNY as a peer mentor helping lads like Callum into a job.”
Derek, a former trawler man, became addicted to prescription drugs following a heart attack. “I became addicted to the painkillers and what with one thing and another I fell into taking heroine as a substitute for the painkillers and that led to dealing”.
Derek says: “I’ve been to jail five times because of my addiction – I lost my job, my family, my kids. Then one day in jail I said, ‘I’ve had enough’. My ex-partner wouldn’t speak to me and I was danger of losing contact with my kids – I’d missed the birth of my youngest and wasn’t there for my eldest lad’s eighteen and Twenty first birthday.”
With the help of HLNY’s Helen Gunn, Derek moved away from Bridlington to Hull, a city he knew well from his youth, which would take him away from some dubious friends. Since then he has been working as a peer mentor and social employability adviser with Offploy.
“Through Offploy and HLNY I can offer some real-life insight into what it means to come out of prison and find a job,” says Derek. “I think a lot of the lads I deal with appreciate the fact that I’ve been inside, I’ve made the same stupid mistakes they have and come through it.
“I help the lads get ready for an interview, prepare them for a nine-to-five job and ensure they stay on target. I show them that if I can get my life they can get theirs back. I am particularly proud to have helped one lad through the stevedore course and he is now doing an apprenticeship. I hope I can do the same for Callum.”