From the age of twenty, I trained with The National Trust specialising in the repair of old buildings following which, I began my own building business. At the same time, I sang both at amateur level and professionally as a tenor in various local operatic companies.
In 2003 I started a restoration company restoring old buildings and also completing some new work. As I grew up on a council estate; my mum was a cleaner and my father a labourer on building sites, I really started with nothing, but by the time 2005 came I was employing nearly twenty people and had built myself a property portfolio of three houses. I was working day and night, as do many others.
In 2007 the recession came along and I was threatened with losing everything. I tried desperately to keep my business afloat and my employees jobs safe but, after trying all I could to keep things going I ended up borrowing money from loan sharks. Eventually through the bullying and pressure from them on me and my family, I was bullied into talking two investors in to investing money into my business; the outcome of this was that I was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 15 months imprisonment.
When I was released from prison in 2010 my family was on its last legs. My wife and children were living with my mother and father in their two bedroom bungalow which was due to be repossessed.
I went to the job centre and was offered £6.00 a week due to the fact that one of the houses I owned was not yet sold and they deemed it an asset. So I went home, filled a ruck sack full of my father’s DIY tools and walked the streets looking for work. Eventually, I got some work hanging fire-doors five miles from my house which I walked to every day carrying my tools. My family was in such a bad financial situation that most days I didn’t eat all day.
After 6 months I was making arrangements with everyone I owed money to, my nan and grandad (now passed on), managed to get together £450 for me to buy a car. Never having any driving offences or convictions, much to my surprise, I could not get insured and had to have ex-offenders insurance which cost me £3300 for a £450 car.
Onward and upwards, I carried on and paid back in total nearly £240,000 working day and night. By the time we arrived in 2015 I had paid as much as I could, had sorted out my parents’ financial situation, and moved with my family into a rented property where we are extremely happy after years of all living in one room. I now employ two people and have an apprentice who qualifies later this year, even though I cannot get the government funding for him, as having a past criminal conviction, I still can’t obtain any employers liability insurance that costs less than I would receive in funding.
In March last year I volunteered myself and my men to help on a television programme. The production team were so impressed with what I did that I was offered a job as Build Manager for another programme; a job which I threw myself into. Through my hard work I was then offered a contract on the show for a whole year which I was delighted to accept. There was even mention of contracts for other shows too.
I was away filming for two weeks and on returning home one night, was greeted on the doorstep by reporters from various newspapers. Apparently, a local newspaper had received a tip off about my previous conviction and had printed a story about me in the paper. This article fairly quickly led to my contracts with the television show being cancelled, despite huge protests from the many volunteers I had worked with. In the end, these protests counted for nothing and I was dropped like a stone.
A close customer of mine was so upset by my treatment that they wrote to the Princes’ Trust explaining my story. They referred me to Unlock.
I just want to ask when is enough, enough? Having gone through the prison system, I know that they sew a safety net under you right up until the day you are released. At that point it’s immediately taken back so somebody else can use it and you’re left with no promised support from anyone at all.
I’ve applied to many other business organisations and have met the same brick wall every time. Even now, after repairing my credit I still cannot get any financial help anywhere. How does anyone else who does not have my amount of grit, determination and tenacity, get back on track in this life following a situation like mine? There must be so many people with so much talent and skill out there in similar situations that are just left at the bottom of those same brick walls that I have been.
What is anyone in our great United Kingdom doing about this?
By Alex (name changed to protect identity)
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