Why did you set up Key4Life, Eva?
The reasons are two-fold. I’ve had my own challenges in life and have seen how adversity can affect any individual. I’ve also spent the last 30 years running several charities, eventually putting the best of what I’ve learned into Key4Life. For me, the London riots in 2011 were a turning point: when I saw children as young as eight years old rioting in the streets, I knew something had to be done to support people who simply don’t get the best start in life. I took the best parts from each of the charities I’d worked with and created a new seven-step model to help reoffenders in the UK. I travelled to New York to trial it, sharing the model with former gang leaders in Harlem and The Bronx who thought it was great. I then brought it back to the UK where I did a trial run with a prison gang. In the beginning, there were no investors, but we had support from the prison system and Sir Bob Geldof, who helped us raise funds through a charity concert.
Why do you think re-offending rates are so high in the UK?
Because we don’t focus enough on rehabilitation. When people come out of prison, they need a support package and that’s not always there. I also believe that a lot of companies don’t employ offenders and have prejudices against them, which is one of the reasons I created the ‘Younited Flag’ which is awarded to employers who provide jobs for ex-offenders across Britain.
How would you describe Key4Life’s mission?
Our mission is to rehabilitate young men in prison or those who are at risk of going to prison. We also help children who are caught up in knife crime or at risk of doing so. We want to help save lives, not only because it costs the economy £18 billion annually, but also because we know helping reoffenders move away from crime can yield amazing results. Only 14% of our participants have re-offended within a year of release, compared to the national rate of 64%, and a Key4Life participant is four times more likely to find employment.
What does the programme involve initially?
We work with people being released from prison within six to nine months, but ideally within three. We look for men who want to change, and we don’t take on board active drug users – they might have had substance issues in the past, but we need people who are really going to engage with the process. Our programme is based on three principles. The first is to help these young men release the pain from their past. To do this, we use equine therapy and bring horses into the prison – the animals can mirror the emotions and feelings of the young men. We also work with the music and football industries, as many of the men we support have a keen passion for both – we often enlist the help of Queens Park Rangers FC, for example. Through these resources, one of our main goals is to help them come to terms with their feelings, which often include unresolved anger, sadness, guilt, fear and hurt. Around 78% of our participants didn’t have a father growing up and 30% of them already have children themselves – the statistics are really shocking.
And what happens next?
The second part of the process involves mentoring. We bring in businesspeople from all walks of life who will support these men as they go through the programme, essentially becoming the role model they never had. The final part is about employability, which involves CV preparation, mock interviews and preparing them for the world of work. Many have led a life of crime and have never worked in a legit company or earned ‘clean’ money. They might have never had an interview before, so we set up some work speed dating to introduce them to lots of companies. Afterwards, we go on to meet them from the prison post-release, ensure they’re suited and booted, and get them involved in work taster days and placements. Afterwards, we provide residential trips, ongoing support meetings. When they’ve completed the programme, they graduate and become Key4Life alumni. Many go on to become ‘Key Mentors’ who then help others going through the programme.
What do the work taster days look like?
We’ll send them into a company for a three-day taster, which is similar to work experience. For example, they’ll go into a bank or work for a construction company and move around in different departments so they can get a feel for the work involved. They’ll be paired up with a buddy who looks after them, will be given tasks and, on the third day, we go in to get some feedback on how they’ve done.
Tell us about the opportunities Key4Life gives the people who take part…
It opens doors that would have never opened otherwise. If they’re running on a negative trajectory in life and have a bad path ahead, this is one way to give them new choices and opportunities. They’re able to meet new people, work with companies they wouldn’t have access to, and realise they have a greater value away from drug dealing or getting involved in a life of crime.
How can businesses get involved?
The first step is to have a call or meeting with us. You can become a partner of Key4Life, which involves providing mentors – this can be great for the personal development of your own staff. You can also provide employability support – whether that’s running workshops, offering work tasters or, most importantly, offering employment to receive the Younited Flag. We welcome employers from all industries.
What kind of commitment do you need to make as a mentor?
It’s usually a year’s commitment, with lots of time dedicated during the initial stages because you’ve got to get to know your participant and build a relationship with him. Most mentorships go way beyond one year, but it’s important to check in with them at least once a week and see them in person every couple of weeks.
How will businesses benefit from doing this?
These days, it’s very important to be transparent about your diversity and inclusion policies, what kind of workforce you have, and how you treat them. For many companies, the benefit of being a mentor or bringing your staff down to prisons is a great sense of pride. The personal development staff get is also huge, as is the chance to diversify your business. It’s a win-win for everyone – your business, the young men, Key4Life and society in general.
A question many might be thinking – is it safe?
Yes. As with any company, we always have to perform risk assessments, but as with any industry, people can pose challenges. However, because we provide a safety net and get to know the men very well, you can be assured it’s completely safe to get on board. It’s important to have an organisation that wraps the kind of support around them we do.
Are there any individuals whose life has been changed by Key4Life that stand out to you?
There are so many who have overcome huge adversities in life. Many have done exceptionally well but there are one or two who have really stood out. A couple have managed to go into the City and are now working for big insurance and banking firms – they’re the ones who have had to overcome a major stereotype. That said, I’m equally proud of the guy who was homeless and totally turned his life around by securing a job in construction. I should also mention Liam Meredith, who worked for Yeo Valley for three years and now runs his own burger van – he’s a real example to all of us of what you can achieve.
Where do the donations go?
Donations help us in many ways and we’re hugely reliant on them. It costs £5,000 to put one young man through the programme, compared to the £39,000 it costs to put one person in prison. Our results really do speak volumes and we work with some of the toughest men in Britain. We need more help from people out there, to ‘unlock’ the potential of these young men – it’s why the charity is called ‘Key4Life’.
What’s been the most rewarding part of setting up the charity?
Running the charity and seeing people grow in front of my eyes is always beautiful, but the most rewarding part was creating the Younited Flag which has been embraced by so many companies. We had a special awards ceremony at Mansion House a few weeks ago where several businesses, including SheerLuxe, won their awards. That was an unforgettable day. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that in life, we’ve all faced adversity and all of us have a past, but our past doesn’t have to define our future. We must be prepared to give people another chance when they have done wrong.