by Erica Crompton
“I’ve got to run soon,” says Lord Ramsbotham, life peer in the House of Lords and president of Unlock. Speaking at Unlock’s reception, he adds: “But before I do I have to say, this is one of the nicest rooms in the House of Lords. It was a drawing room for the Lords Chancellor and now it’s the Lord Speakers room. He stipulated that the only people who could use it would be do-ers organisations. Organisations like Unlock. This charity represents to me something very remarkable because the people have been there and are coming and doing it for other people.”
We’re gathered in this plush room in the House of Lords tonight to learn about the new direction of Unlock. Now known as Unlock – for people with convictions, the new name has a double meaning. It’s not just criminal records that the new title eludes to. It’s also people’s convictions to reach their full potential.
Political freedom fighter and playwright, Charlie Ryder says: “I welcome Unlock’s name change to ‘people with convictions’. Ex-offender is so offensive. I feel it’s a permanent label based on the worst thing you’ve ever done. It focuses on the past rather than the future. None of us would like to be judged at the lowest point in our lives.”
Unlock trustee Carlotta Allum can relate: “I am someone with a conviction from 16 years ago and the ignorance and prejudice I have faced shocked me. Immediately after my crime I kept my head down. I trained to be an art teacher. But lots of people started judging me on my conviction even though I was doing well at my placement in school.”
But charities like Unlock can help with this. They’re currently responding to social and political climate. It isn’t enough to make a difference, they say, and so they prove it day in, day out.
“We hold true to the ethos that our charity should be led by people with convictions. This makes all the difference.” says Julie Harmsworth Director of Operations at the charity.
Unlock are looking forward. They have their new terminology. They’re launching a new website at the end of the year. And they’ve launched their new information hub – the most comprehensive source of self-help information, reaching a quarter of a million people every year, and growing.
One such person Unlock has reached out to is Steve Smith, a former Unlock volunteer. Steve discovered Unlock at the end of a custodial sentence. He soon became the charity’s first volunteer.
Steve says: “When I arrived at Unlock, I wanted to get back into the construction industry. But my mind was open to take on what I could and resettle back into the community. After volunteering with Unlock an opportunity came up for an Office Manage post at Changing Paths, helping people with convictions back into employment. I went to the interview and they gave me the job. I soon started in the role. Today I am the Project Manager at Changing Paths.”
Pictured above: Judge John Samuels QC (Unlock Vice President), Stephen Smith (Project Manager at Changing Paths) and Linda PIzani-Williams (Chair of Trustees at Unlock)
Thanks to Unlock, many people, like Steve, have succeeded in finding work or fulfilling goals. “I’m thrilled to be an Unlock trustee today” says Carlotta, “As I’m sure you’ll understand, it’s a cause close to my heart.”
Then, before tonight’s ensemble of trustees, supporters, peers and legal eagles, Julie concludes: “You’ve just heard some of the reasons I work for Unlock.”