Brighouse businessman Jacob Hill.
Nick Hill

Offploy interview: How an ex-offender is helping prisoners go from jail to a job

At only 23-years-old, Brighouse-based businessman Jacob Hill is already an experienced entrepreneur, having founded the festival-favourite Lazy Camper brand back in February 2012.

Now, Jacob is embarking on a new business venture which aims to encourage ex-offender employment in the region. The business, Offploy, is a social enterprise established to help organisations realise the commercial and societal benefits of ex-offender employment.

As inspiring as Jacob’s work with Offploy is, the concept of the business first came to him at a very difficult period in the young businessman’s life.

In 2014, Jacob was arrested and charged for selling drugs at a music festival. Despite no prior criminal convictions, he went on to serve 294 days of a 28 month prison sentence.

Offploy was born during Jacob’s sentence, and now he has spoken with Bdaily about his journey of being behind bars to help ex-offenders go from jail to job.

“When I was sent away I expected everyone to be like the typical ‘Shawshank Redemption’ image of what prison was like,” Jacob told me about first going to prison. “This changed, however, when I was in a workshop one day and I met someone going on about how he wanted to do more with his life, but he didn’t have anything to show for himself due to all the previous prison sentences he has done.

Jacob added: “While in prison he has completed a lot of qualifications and he could apply to do a ‘foundation style’ degree for an open university.

“That was the first time I saw that we had people who wanted to make a difference, turn their lives around and wanted more for themselves. But these people have always been told they aren’t good enough or that they’ve been a nuisance to the police, and end up re-offending time after time after time. It is now the case of getting them out of the cycle.

“Prisoners just need that chance if they are willing to take the next steps, and this is where the idea of Offploy came from. I thought ‘hang on a second, these are ex-offenders, I’m an ex-offender, all we need is a chance to redeem ourselves.’”

After serving his sentence, Jacob immediately began making Offploy become a reality. But this process first began when he was still in prison.

“Whilst I was in prison I managed to put together a business plan which was 52-pages long,” he told me. “I did this with help from my girlfriend sending in pages and pages of documents, and I looked through everything until I had a catalogue of information, which then helped me put together this business plan.”

After his release, Jacob said that he soon “realized I had to get my name out there so I looked towards a support network I actually built in prison. I looked at organisations like the National Career Service, and from there I was introduced to a business who my current investor had invested in. From there, it was really chance or luck, but I met a Hull-based businessman called Nigel Stabler.

“Within two weeks of release I met with Nigel and showed him my business plan. The best part about the meeting is that he asked me real questions and wanted to get to know me, not my offence. And this is one of the most important things I stress to employers about hiring ex-offenders.

“Let them take ownership of their rehabilitation.”

“So within two weeks of my release, Nigel agreed to support my venture, and nine weeks later I started work in my new office in Brighouse. “

Re-offenders currently cost the economy £13bn a year, and since only a third of ex-offenders succeed in finding formal employment two years after their release from prison, Jacob explained how Offploy is addressing this issue.

He said: “Offploy stresses that it starts with the employer, not the ex-offender. Although many employers want to hire more ex-offenders, they are also scared because going through the legal and ethical minefield of hiring an ex-offender can be incredibly daunting etc.

“Offploy will deal with the recruitment process and work with the prisons. We will actually talk to ex-offenders and see if they are actually ready to make that decision to move on. If they’re not, then they will not be hired. I would rather find someone who has no qualifications or skills, but has a real willingness to work and improve themselves, as these are the people we will help get employed.

“So Offploy will work with the employer, mitigate their concerns and then they will commit to us a number of employment opportunities over the space of 12 to 24 months.

“The biggest incentive you can give an ex-offender is the prospect of a employment once they’ve released.”

“We want ex-offenders to know, if they are set on bettering themselves, there are jobs available for them.”

As for Jacob’s long-term strategy for Offploy, he revealed: “The whole point Offploy is that it is available and can help as many ex-offenders as possible. We are reverse engineering the job market for ex-offenders in the sense that we start with the employer and the job, before working our way to the prisoners.

“Rather than getting the prisoners job ready for a market that’s not there, we get the employers ready for a candidate to fulfil a role.”

“We want to get ten ex-offenders into work by the end of our first year. This is a bold statement, but if this isn’t something we are working towards, then what is the point in what we are doing.”

“We would also love to see a reoffending rate of less than 20%.”

“In addition, we want employers to get towards a point where they shouldn’t have to be concerned about the offence the person committed, but more about the individual and their talents.”

Finally, Jacob offered a few words of advice for any budding entrepreneurs out there looking to launch their own ventures.

“Launching a business can be incredibly lonely,” he admitted. “After working on a business everyday it becomes personal, and when something doesn’t go right you can take it personally and it can tear apart your whole day.

“My point is, get a support network, and speak with friends and family. Look at networks out there, meet people, ask for support and talk about the issues you are facing.”

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