Teaching Tech
Changing Lives

Breaking the cycle of crime by teaching prisoners coding Checkout

Franky, a Code4000 graduate, is now a Lloyds Banking Group software engineering apprentice!

Franky 

In 2015, Franky was involved in a fight following a night out; he was under the influence of alcohol and the injuries he inflicted were deemed serious enough to warrant a charge of Grievous Bodily Harm. At his trial he was sentenced to nine years in custody. He arrived at HMP Humber in August 2015. He was 21 years old. 

Franky had always been academically bright, he had passed his GCSEs whilst at school, and had worked as a factory line manager and for his family’s plastering business. He had never been in custody before and, upon first arriving at HMP Humber, Franky had this to say: 

“It was very overwhelming; I’d never been in an environment like that before and it was clearly something I was going to have to adapt to.” 

However, Franky was keen to make the most of his circumstances and of his time in prison. Through the courses available to him in the prison education department, Franky earned several qualifications and studied for a Natural Sciences degree while in custody through The Open University. When the Code4000 academy opened in HMP Humber in 2017, Franky was one of the first to join the programme. 

In the two years he spent in the Code4000 academy, Franky showed a huge desire to learn and improve his programming knowledge. He also worked as a mentor, helping less experienced students by sharing his expertise with them. Always positive, always friendly, and always willing to help, Franky was held in high regard by both prison and Code4000 staff, as well as by his peers.  

Of the Code4000 programme, Franky had this to say: 

“Since arriving in prison, I’d worried about what I was going to do when I was released. Being on the Code4000 course really focussed my plans, I could see a path which had not been available to me before. I also enjoyed it. I didn’t have any coding experience before, and it was great to learn. I’d also never work in an office environment and this gave me a sense of normality.”  

Lloyds Banking Group 

Early in 2019, Code4000 were approached by Lloyds Banking Group who were interested in developing an open, inclusive apprenticeship programme for people with barriers to employment. They were looking to partner with us and offer opportunities for high-quality, sustainable employment in the tech sector for those leaving prison. 

Franky’s aptitude for coding and his positive and friendly demeanour made him a great candidate for any potential roles with Lloyds Banking Group. Furthermore, his self-reflection and willingness to take responsibility for his past while considering his future gave both Code4000 and Lloyds Banking Group the confidence that he would make the most of any opportunity he was given. 

Code4000 met with Lloyds Banking Group’s Software Engineering, People & Productivity, and Apprenticeship teams to discuss how best to progress any opportunities. By now, Franky was already aware that he was being considered for the role and Code4000’s Regional Manager, Shauna Devlin, was updating him on any progress. 

Upon hearing that he was to be considered for a Lloyds Banking Group Apprenticeship, Franky had the following to say: 

“It was such a shock to be given an opportunity by such a massive organisation. It also changed my whole outlook on how I felt people perceived offenders and people with a criminal record, that actually not everyone was negative about it. It gave me hope.” 

In December 2019, Franky was released from HMP Humber after four and a half years. 

Introducing Franky to Lloyds Banking Group 

Between his release and January 2020, Shauna kept in touch, advising Franky of any developments. Franky had returned home to Lincolnshire and waited patiently for news. 

In January Franky travelled to Leeds to meet with the hiring manager of the Software Engineering team. He was introduced to the team he would be working with should he be successfully hired, and the manager was able to give him some insight into the role and the organisation. 

Franky had made a great first impression! The hiring manager was impressed by his knowledge, his attitude, and his desire to make a positive change and put his past behind him.  

The vetting process took place, including minor adjustments to take into consideration the offence and the time spent in prison. Code4000 remained in constant contact with both Franky and Lloyds Banking Group throughout, setting Franky’s expectations of the timescales and providing him with learning materials to keep his subject knowledge up to date.  

While the vetting process was ongoing, Franky needed to secure a move from Lincolnshire to Leeds, where he would be based. Code4000 started a crowd funding campaign to help him cover the costs of the move; they also successfully applied to the charity St. Martin in the Fields for a grant to cover the deposit for accommodation. 

In the Spring of 2020, Franky was formally offered a role within the Software Engineering Apprenticeship programme, a role he was thrilled to accept: 

“I am so grateful to be given an opportunity given everything I had been though. I was also still shocked!” 

Despite the unfortunate position of starting his new role at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown, Franky was able to start his job remotely and has now been in the role for almost six months. Those working with Franky have been impressed with his independence and resilience and how those traits have helped him to work effectively while based remotely. There is a sense from the team at Lloyds that Franky’s experience has helped him develop those characteristics; for Code4000, this points to the many advantages of employing ex-prisoners and giving them the opportunity to turn their lives around. Franky’s line manager had this to say on his progress: 

“Franky has got off to a great start. He joined us during a period when we were all getting accustomed to working from home and at a physical distance to each other yet his enthusiasm, resilience and motivation to seize this opportunity sets him up for future success.” 

Code4000 are truly grateful to Lloyds Banking Group for offering Franky this opportunity. We are dedicated to turning around the lives of our students and offering them opportunities to set them on the right path after leaving prison. We are also grateful to staff at The Humber, especially Neil Barnby, the instructor in the Code4000 academy, for supporting Franky to learn the skills that have secured him this role. 

The final word, we think, should go to Franky himself who, reflects on his experience and where he now finds himself, as an Apprentice Software Engineer for the Lloyds Banking Group: 

“Before I went to prison never saw myself in this position, it’s unbelievable. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Code4000 have been unbelievably supportive, both Neil and Stephen at Humber and the broader Code4000 team. The deposit for my house was the biggest help that I could have asked for and I was really grateful that Code4000 were able to sort that. Prison can be an isolating place and you can sometimes feel that nobody cares, that nobody is there to help you, but the Code4000 course was different and everyone involved, both inside and outside The Humber, were great throughout.” 


Rod Anderson is, sadly, leaving Code4000

Code4000's Programmes Director, Jim Taylor, writes:

Recently Code4000’s Chief Operating Officer, Rod Anderson, was appointed Peer Advisor Network Coordinator and Development Lead (Scotland) for the St. Giles’ Trust and, consequently will be leaving us at the beginning of October. This is extremely sad news for the Code4000 team, Rod being someone we all hold in the upmost regard, both personally and professionally. While we are thrilled for him and wish him all the best in his new appointment, but we will all be extremely sorry to see him leave.

Rod has worked for Code4000 since 2018, first as Regional Director for the North and then taking the reins as Chief Operating Officer at the end of 2019. As Chief Operating Officer he has shaped the direction of Code4000, developing a model of operation that is viable for our ongoing expansion and growth as an organisation. Without this work, we would be quite unequipped to undertake the development of our HMP Wandsworth academy and our expansion into the other academies that are in the Code4000 pipeline. He has been a great ambassador for Code4000, promoting our cause with honesty, positivity, and passion. Furthermore, throughout the Covid-19 crisis, he has steered the ship single-handedly while the rest of the team were furloughed.

He has been a fantastic colleague and we will all miss his sense of humour and irreverent, yet positive, approach to work and life. He has also been a supportive colleague to us all. He is known personally to all our students and graduates and we are sure they will be equally sorry to see him go.

However, Code4000’s loss is definitely the St. Giles’ Trust’s gain and we are sure that Rod will do as an outstanding job for them as he has for us; we are sure his new service users will benefit enormously from his compassionate, but practical, approach to improving the life chances of marginalised people. We wish him all the very best of luck!


The Tees Tech Awards: and the winners are...

Code4000's Programmes Director, Jim Taylor, writes:

On the 20th of August, Code4000 were the winners of the Tech For Good category of the inaugural Tees Tech Awards for our work at HMP Holme House. Yesterday, my first task upon returning full time from furlough was to collect the rather stylish trophy from the Tees Business office in Middlesbrough. It‘s great to return to work after almost six months out, and collecting the trophy was as good a way as any to start back!

We were thrilled to win the award; it is always great to be recognised for the work we do, and I was proud to collect the accolade on behalf of the team. It also reflects equally well on our prison service partners at HMP Holme House, without whom none of the work we do would be possible. Since opening our academy, we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from the team there, and the culture fostered by the prison, being one of support and rehabilitation, fits perfectly with our ethos as a charity committed to improving the life chances of people in custody. A particularly special mention should go to the Reducing Reoffending and Industries teams, as well as Stephen and Josh who deliver the Code4000 programme on site.

However, the award also represents a watershed moment in the development of our Holme House academy; a moment where we believe we take a big step in a transition from simply a charity working with offenders to a recognised tech training provider. As we continue to develop our curriculum and the offer of support to our students, we are keen to shift our narrative from one of being a prison workshop that happens to deliver coding training, to one of a coding bootcamp that just happens to be based in a prison.

Coding bootcamps (short, yet intense, training courses intended to rapidly develop a novice programmer to the level of a junior developer or further) are now established as a recognised route into software development. Some bootcamps even offer a guaranteed job upon completion, a testament, perhaps, to both the confidence of the training providers and the tech skills shortage within the UK. It is our aim that, when our graduates are asked where they learned to code, they reply “at a Code4000 bootcamp”, rather than “in prison”; we want to shift the emphasis away from the place our graduates were to the skills that they have learned.

And what’s the difference between Code4000 and community-based providers? Code4000 students are so very enthusiastic, they love coding and are desperately keen to learn (as any visitor to our academies will attest!). Given an opportunity to work in the tech sector, we are confident that our graduates will pay that trust back with interest to any employer who gives them the break they need. Regardless of the journey, we aim to provide the same outcome as our counterparts: enthusiastic, well trained, and skilled software developers ready to take up employment in the tech industry.

This is why the Tees Tech Award is so important to Code4000. The award bit we are genuinely chuffed about, but the tech bit is just as important. It provides us a platform on which to build our reputation within the Teesside tech community as a genuine developer of tech talent rather than simply a provider of prison training. Maybe the very platform on which we can, one day, like other bootcamps, include in our offer of support a guarantee that every graduate from Holme House is offered a job in the Teesside tech sector once released.

The cohort with whom we work will always need that little extra support, whether that is with finding work or training or just finding their feet upon release. Furthermore, we value the experience and knowledge of our experienced coders in the academies (putting them to good use as mentors to new students and delivering skills sessions) and have no desire to restrict the time a student can spend on the programme. However, it is our ambition for Code4000 to be seen in the same light as the many other great training providers that are helping people reach their goal of work in the tech sector and the Tees Tech Award is a huge step in that direction.

Finally, Code4000 would like to say a huge thanks to the organisers of the awards, Tees Business, and the sponsor of the Tech For Good category, Mike Racz and Domino’s Teesside. Thanks too, to the superb Teesside tech community who, whenever I have attended events or visited employers, colleges, or training providers, have always been welcoming and very supportive of Code4000 and our aims. There were two further nominees for the Tech For Good category, the ADEO Group and Itchy Robot UK, and Code4000 were in very good company given the great work that they both do. Thanks also go to our partners at the Ministry of Justice, New Futures Network, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, & Sport.

For more information about the award, or about Code4000 in general, please feel free to contact Jim at jim@code4000.org.


What we're all about

Code4000's Programmes Director, Jim Taylor, writes:

Earlier this month, Code4000’s Chief Operating Officer, Rod Anderson, and I travelled to London to update two of our key partners, The Ministry of Justice and The Department of Culture, Media and Sport, on our plans for 2020. The meetings were positive and our plans for the future of Code4000 were very well received; it was truly gratifying to have their continued support.

However, it isn’t just gaining that support that was gratifying, if I’m honest. It’s great, of course, that we enjoy the support of key partners such as the MoJ and DCMS, but it was also great to talk about the work we do and our plans for the future. And It’s when we talk to others about what we do and the impact we have on the lives of our cohort that we really visualise the importance of our work. It’s that visualisation of impact that made those meetings truly rewarding.

But what exactly is it that we do? I mean, yeah, Code4000 teach computer programming to people in prison but is that it? Of course, that training is at the heart of our provision, but there’s much more to it than that. The training is part of a larger offer, an offer that we were able to describe in those meetings and that I’d like to describe again today.

First of all, we achieve positive outcomes for our students. Not one of our graduates has returned to custody and all of our graduates are engaged in some form of positive activity, either in the community or open prison. At the time of writing, 24% of our graduates were supported into work in the tech-sector and 12% have started their own business in tech. 29% of our graduates are being supported to access further training and 12% are in further or higher education.

But one word I used a lot there was “supported”. Every Code4000 student is now interviewed by our regional manager upon joining the course as part of their Learner Journey planning. Every twelve weeks their progress is reviewed and, where appropriate, interventions are made to ensure they are making progress. Planning for release starts from the point the student joins the course and a discussion around their ambitions and aspirations forms a huge part of the initial interview. This year we will begin to roll out a package of soft and employability skills to run alongside our students’ technical training. We have begun to work with the Offender Management Units of our host prisons to share our planning and contribute to the multi-disciplinary approach to resettling our students on release. From the minute they join our course, Code4000 students are supported to achieve their learning and resettlement goals.

We recognise that not all of our students will leave prison as developers; some might even have more pressing priorities than employment such as recovery work or the rebuilding of family ties. Some may not be quite ready for that step and require further training. However, we have already begun to integrate continued Code4000 learning alongside other interventions in the community. Our support package is growing and driven by a determination to ensure that anyone can access our course regardless of complex or special needs. We continue to work with these students and do so in a way that fits with their broader plans. There is no one-size-fits-all approach; our support is bespoke, flexible and developed in collaboration with the student. Some students will leave ready for the tech-industry, others may need some extra help and support, but Code4000 work with all our cohort, beyond their release.

However, and perhaps most importantly (and certainly at the core of what we do), we teach people in prison how to code. But again, this core point becomes almost peripheral when you look at the impact our work has on the outlook of our students; being on the Code4000 course is so much more than computer programming training. Look at what our students say: “It’s not like prison”; “it’s opened up a whole new world for me”; “it’s a privilege to be on the course”; are just some of their remarks about the impact the Code4000 programme has had on their lives. They are evangelical about learning to code: they want to show you what they’ve created, talk to you about what they’ve learned, and share their knowledge with those new students who are just joining the course. I have worked in prisons for some years now and I have seen a lot of successful projects done extremely well but I have never quite seen men, some of whom who have been in and out of prison their whole lives and have little experience of formal training or education, get quite so excited about what it is they are learning.

Our students take their textbooks back to their cells; petition the governor to allow them to work through their dinner breaks; and one of the guys is even trying to persuade his parole board to visit the classroom to see the work that is being done! To be fair, Code4000 can’t take all the credit for the students getting the coding-bug (no pun intended!), as a hobbyist coder myself I understand the compulsion that comes with programming. The problem solving, the frustration of being stuck suddenly giving way to the elation of success when you finally figure out what you’ve got wrong (often something minor and trivial!). Coding can become and obsession regardless of context, but Code4000 provide the opportunity to learn coding to those who would otherwise not be able to experience it. Learning to code appears almost life-changing to our learners who are, let’s not forget, a cohort who have more need than most for life-changing experiences.

Amongst all this, it’s easy to forget that our graduates are actually leaving prison with one of the most sought-after skills in the country! Our curriculum has been a success, with more and more learners going through the Code4000 programme and leaving able to build websites and code in at least one, and often two or three different languages. We offer a curriculum that can guide a complete novice to become an advanced coder and is structured to support all learners to reach their full potential. If nothing else, Code4000 achieve that, but it doesn’t take much time in our classrooms and talking to our students to discover that it means much more to them than a sought-after skill.

And that is what Code4000 are all about. An accessible curriculum teaching up-to-date tech skills. A package of support to ensure that learners reach their potential and that no one falls behind. A learning and training environment that is welcoming and encourages learners to help their peers and improve their own knowledge and understanding in so doing. A through the gate service that begins at the point of joining the course and that ultimately guides learners into sustainable training or employment upon release. And all of this in the hope that learning to code, and the opportunities that learning provides, will guide our learners into a life free of crime and offending.

I suppose, in short, #teachingtechchanginglives


Reflections on 2019 from HMP Holme House

Stephen Allen is the Classroom Instructor at the Code4000 Academy at HMP Holme House and, with years of prison experience, a huge technical skillset, and a strong interest in computer programming, he is the perfect fit for the role! He's been on-board at the coding academy since it opened last year and has been a key-factor in the provision there going from strength-to-strength. He has wrote a series of articles for the Code4000 blog about his work at Holme House and published below is the first of these, a reflection on 2019.

 

Reflection

As 2019 comes to a close, the Code4000 Academy at HMP Holme House reaches the end of its first year. Setting-up a new workshop in a prison is a sizeable undertaking ; add to that the rules and regulations around the use of the IT infrastructure and equipment required to making a coding workshop work and you have a challenging mix leading to many stress headaches and sleepless nights!

A year later though, and all that is a distant memory and I look out of my office window at the dozen coders in my workshop all busying through the sizeable quantity of learning material we have made available to them. This is the result of a very successful year and, of course, a successful 18 months prior to us getting it up and running in the first place!

It’s eerily calm compared to a typical prison workshop, even a typical prison education classroom doesn’t have this level of focus or dedication from all its learners. This is largely down to the support provided by the folks at Code4000. Prisoners can get promised all sorts in their time on the inside but many of these promises fall through or are forgotten about for a variety of reasons and it can leave them very sceptical of new ventures like ours.

When I induct a new prisoner to the workshop, I start off by stressing that this is like no other workshop they’ll have experienced. We’re linked to Code4000 who provide learning material, volunteers and who are ever present during their time in the workshop. They’re a non-profit company and their funding comes from their successes, so you put the effort in and make the most of what we’re offering and once released the folks at Code4000 will support you to further your education and / or find work in the tech sector.

This is the key difference. In any other prison workshop once a prisoner gets released that’s the end of our association with them. All these skills, certificates or qualifications they have can mean very little when tied to the stigma attached to having a criminal record. Code4000 however have already built relationships with local tech companies and education providers. The tech sector is uniquely open to people from any background, they’re not interested in your past – just whether or not you can do the job they’re offering.

Any scepticism a new coder might still have soon vanishes once they arrive in the workshop and meet the other coders. Soon they’ll meet the Code4000 team: Shauna, Jim, Rod and possibly even Michael if he’s in the country on one of his many visits to refresh and update the software that is vital to the workshop’s success! It doesn’t take long before they start imagining what their life could be like once released, all the new opportunities that will be open to them.

My coders are all at different levels, we purposely stagger recruitment to achieve this and it encourages peer support, all but the newest recruit will find they are able to offer some support to their neighbour and this helps to build relationships and team bonds. Each and every frustration experienced by a new coder has been experienced by his peers and they learn that failure and frustration is part of the learning experience, particularly when it comes to coding! As I like to remind them: “In the beginning you’ll spend 10% of your time writing code, and 90% of your time trying to figure out why it doesn’t work!”