Feature Writing: The Message Enterprise Centre, Manchester

For my Feature Writing module in year 2, I was assigned to write a local feature on an event or news story in Manchester. I chose to report on a enterprise centre which was set up for ex-offenders, in order to give them a job and a second chance to get back on the right track in life.

There are three businesses, a cafe, a bicycle recycle shop and a hair and beauty salon, situated on an industrial estate in Sharston.

Sharston enterprise centre gives ex-offenders a second chance.

“Young people who were once a massive drain on our society are now an asset” (The Message Enterprise Centre)

By Molly Marsden

The inspiring Message Enterprise Centre has three businesses, Bespoke Cycle Recycling, the Mess Café, and Shine Hair & Beauty. Helping ex-offenders, male and female, get on the right track by offering paid employment and training, along with funds for food and accommodation.

For many ex-prisoners the employment rate is extremely low as many businesses are not interested in hiring them due to the lack of trust and doubt surrounding ex-prisoners. However, this enterprise centre, which is based on Harper Road, Sharston Industrial Estate, has a different goal.

Manager at Bespoke Cycle Recycling said: “The main goal is to help the people who come to us after prison and to prevent them reoffending in the future and to change their lives for the better.”

Businesses like Bespoke and The Mess Cafe that are established by charities, such as The Message Enterprise Centre, are improving and benefiting the Manchester community to a great extent. They have proven that the encouragement and support, that the organisation offers, is lowering the Manchester community’s re-offending rates. Less offences means the crime rates in the area will decrease.

The overall adult and juvenile reoffending rates in England and Wales are of a high percentage of 26.5%, resulting in many of the ex-offenders in the area committing another crime. Over 62% of prison leavers are back behind bars within two years.

Research and evidence has shown that because there is a lack of jobs and careers for ex-offenders when they leave prison, some people have a better life in prison where they receive food and shelter on a regular basis, causing them to reoffend.

A worker at the Café said: “I have been in and out of prison a few times for drugs and other offences because when I wasn’t in prison, I had to live on the streets and beg for food. It just seemed an easy way out. However, The Message has given me the opportunity to earn my own money and gain a second chance to have my own home.”

The centre offers jobs that are similar to those available whilst in prison. There are barbers, salons and cafes inside some male and female prisons, where the offenders are able to work, train and gain valuable work experience. This Sharston enterprise centre reflects related jobs that may be familiar with new employees.

A salon worker at Shine Hair & Beauty said: “I worked a few days a week at the salon in prison as it really interested me, so coming out to a job like this is amazing as I am so familiar with it and thoroughly enjoy interacting with the public.”

The Mess Café sells food and drink throughout the day, including breakfast and lunch. The four workers at the café take control of all the events such as functions that are held in the evenings, and Thursday Night Live, where the public are able to buy food and alcoholic beverages whilst enjoying the live music once a month.

“It’s really tough and challenging for us all but in a good way. It’s an amazing opportunity and very rewarding,” said a chef at the Mess Café.

The money that is made by the enterprise centre is put back into the business to supply stock for each shop and pay the wages of the employees.

Bespoke Cycle Recycle was established in 2013 by The Message group, where a team of three workers refurbish and restore old, used bikes that are donated, and sell them on to the public. The Christian based charity makes a profit from this which allows them to help the ex-offenders when they first leave prison, in the two year period they may have to volunteer for. The Message give them food and accommodation whilst they volunteer. After this they are able to pay the chosen employee a wage where they then have to pay for their own living costs themselves.

Dave Allanson, Manager at Bespoke said: “We’ve been going for 3 years now (Bespoke) and we’re going from strength to strength”.

“The turnover at Bespoke has become more profitable, it’s going to be the first out of all the businesses in the enterprise centre to actually make a good profit.”

In the bike shop, there are new and used bikes up for sale, all sold at a reasonable price. There are children’s bicycles as well as adults, which have been donated and restored by the staff.

“It gives them a job to look forward to when they get out of prison, because one of the big problems is that employing an ex-offender, a lot of people just will not do it because they think it is too much hassle,” said the Shop Manager.

An employee, who repairs and restores the bikes, said: “Having this opportunity has helped give me focus and direction I needed to change my life.”

Dave Allanson explained: “Bespoke benefits the Manchester community as a whole because our reoffending rates are only about 10% so that’s how it really benefits the community.”

“The public are also gaining extremely good products, with the amount of time and effort that goes into restoring the bikes. It shows how hard working the employees are, allowing them to give something back to their community, as the public are able to buy the finished products at a reasonable price,” the Manager said.

“Over 70% of people who have worked with the charity are now in full-time employment, either with us or elsewhere,” said Dave Allanson.

The Manager at Bespoke explained how it is his job the guide the employees and encourage them to stay on the right pathway, along with training the workers to be able to restore the bikes.

The business has recently worked closely with the British Transport Police (BTP) and Network Rail. Any abandoned bikes found in Manchester Piccadilly train station that are not collected within the two weeks of notice, are given to Bespoke by the BTP to restore. So far they have donated around 20 bikes to the charity. The shop puts the abandoned bikes to good use by stripping them back and restoring them. If this is not possible, as some may be too damaged to sell, they recycle the parts.

PC Marsden said: “This is just the start of what we expect will be a long running and awarding partnership with Bespoke”.

“The whole enterprise centre is a really great idea. I see people committing crimes every day so this organisation is very important for the community as it is keeping the reoffending rates down in Manchester, and helps people to stay off the streets,” PC Marsden said.

Over the Christmas period, the centre held two parties where Christmas dinner was served for the homeless and less well-off in the community who were unable to afford any food. This is just one of the events held by The Message team, where the members of staff are able to use their initiative to create new ideas and give something back to the community. It allowed the workers and the public to socialise and make new friends within the area so that they did not have to spend Christmas alone.

The Message Trust is a Christian centred charity which formed in 1987, going into prisons and offering guidance along the way. Many prisoners decide to follow the religious pathway that the trust offers, in order to get their lives back on track.

Dave Allanson said: “All of our Team Members, not only at Bespoke but in the whole centre, have made a commitment to Jesus Christ while in prison and have demonstrated a desire to live a Christian lifestyle.”

Former prisoner Sion, 21, who is a chef at the café, was arrested in 2012 for numerous armed robberies. He was introduced to The Message whilst in prison, where he became close to the team that helped him through the sentence he served.

“I used to be a drug dealer and do a lot of bad things, but it’s completely transformed me, I’ve been offered a job here that I love, whereas no one else would give me a chance because of my criminal past,” said Sion.

He continued: “I only came out of prison around five months ago, when I was offered a job and house, so it’s changed my life a lot. I couldn’t be more grateful.”

“It’s also helped me with my confidence. I am now able to interact with members of the public that visit the café that I struggled with in the first couple of weeks. But a big step for me is visiting local churches and schools, spreading the word about the charity,” said Sion.

Another successful business that helps and supports ex-offenders is The Timpson Group. There are many shops all over the country, including Manchester, that specialise in shoe care, engraving, key cutting and many other services. The offenders have an opportunity to train at the company’s prison workshops, to ensure they receive a job by the end of it when they leave prison.

Establishments like Timpsons have proven to be a crucial step forward for the offenders and communities. With the workshops provided, the people are leaving prison with training that pushes them to move forward and prevent them from reoffending.

The Timpson’s group currently employs 2400 employees, 89 of them being ex-offenders. The ex-prisoners also receive on the job training, and a chance to visit the Manchester support office- Timpson House. This office provides staff with support in customer care, payroll and finance, shop development and people support.

There is slowly an increase in jobs for ex-offenders, especially in the Greater Manchester area with the help of The Message Enterprise Centre and The Timpson Group. With the increase in jobs, there will be a decrease in re-offending rates in England, by the workers putting their past behind them and changing their lives in a positive way by giving back to the community.

Bespoke are able to pick up any unwanted bicycles that could be donated to the business, please contact Bespoke: 0161 946 9490

For more information about The Message Enterprise Centre Manchester please visit: http://www.themec.org.uk/

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