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The power of partnerships: supporting Switchback Trainees during Covid-19

By October 5, 2020No Comments

In this blog post, Switchback’s new Partnerships Manager, Will Akrigg, explains how Switchback has been using the power of partnerships to help prison-leavers build a stable life in the midst of a global pandemic.

When I first joined Switchback in June, in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown, the organisation’s deep roots in East London and the strength of its local partnerships was clear from the start. What was striking was the level of passion and commitment from small independent businesses in particular. Safe in the knowledge that every Switchback Trainee had a dedicated Switchback Mentor providing ongoing 1-to-1 support, many of these partners had provided Trainees with workplace tours, work experience, training placements or job opportunities for many years.

The challenge of Covid-19

Yet the pandemic has meant that many of Switchback’s employer partners have been closed, shutting off options for real-work training, trial shifts and workplace visits that are so central to Switchback’s programme. Hospitality, our most important sector for partners, has been particularly badly hit.

Given the importance of partnerships and local relationships to Switchback’s past success, we knew they would be just as vital to help prison-leavers navigate the huge challenge of building a stable life during a global pandemic.

As a result, in the past few months we’ve been working hard to think creatively, try new things, strengthen existing partnerships and build new relationships for the future to support our Trainees.

New referral routes

Because Covid-19 meant we could no longer access prisons to meet people before release, one of our first major challenges was finding a new way to meet and recruit young prison-leavers onto the Switchback programme. To meet this challenge we’ve been working in closer partnership with the probation service, including with the London Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) and the London National Probation Service (NPS), to refer young men to Switchback immediately upon their release. Since lockdown began, we’ve provided vital post-release support to over 40 prison-leavers this way and we hope to continue this relationship into the future.

Expanding training and job options

Meanwhile in the community, we’ve been busy finding ways to fill the gaps in training placements, work experience and job opportunities for Switchback Trainees as Covid-19 restrictions continue and the huge economic downturn hits.

In August, we launched a new partnership with Condimentary, a new social enterprise providing a 6-week business skills programme. Switchback Trainee William has already been working with Condimentary on the business plan for a Switchback-branded popcorn. You can now purchase boxes of 24 bags of the final product from Condimentary’s website here!

Partnerships Manager Will with the amazing Switchback popcorn created by Switchback Trainees in collaboration with social enterprise Condimentary

We’re also delighted that two of our real-work training partners, where Switchback Trainees complete two training shifts per week for three months immediately after release, are back open! The Dusty Knuckle social enterprise cafe and bakery in Dalston has just started working with a small number of Switchback Trainees again, while Cafe From Crisis in Spitalfields has also reopened it’s doors, and we hope to get Trainees back in there soon too.

Switchback Trainee William during his induction at The Dusty Knuckle – the first Trainee to get back into action at the bakery post-lockdown!

Healthy meal delivery service Fresh Fitness Food, who previously hosted fantastic workplace visits for Trainees, will now also be providing a 12-month paid internship for two Trainees. The two candidates will soon be spending a month in each department of FFF’s business, from pot washing to working with the executive team.

I just want to thank you for finding this company for me. I really appreciate you and the effort you've put into me from when we first met. I felt how genuine you are, and you've never let me down.

Switchback Trainee, B.

Meanwhile, the creative arts have always provided a fantastic way for Trainees to gain confidence and new skills as well as access great job options. So we are delighted to be working with Finding Rhythms, who will be providing spaces on their music writing and production projects for Switchback Trainees, and with InHouse Records, who are supporting Trainees with 1-to-1 training in their fantastic South London studio!

Switchback Trainee Johnson at a studio training session with InHouse Records.

Thank you for this opportunity. I've been looking for something like this for a long time.

Johnson, Switchback Trainee

While we’ve been saddened to see so many hospitality businesses struggle due to Covid-19, we’re glad to have been able to begin working with Redemption Roasters, the UK’s first behind bars coffee company, who have been offering expert barista training to a number of Trainees in recent weeks.

Switchback Trainee William completing barista training with Redemption Roasters.

"All these opportunities are coming my way and I just want to take them all!"

William, Switchback Trainee

Construction is another sector that is popular with Trainees and provides some great training and career pathways. We’ve been pleased to build on our relationship with training social enterprise BounceBack, who in collaboration with construction firm Keltbray have provided support to several Switchback Trainees during Covid-19 to complete remote training courses to gain their CSCS cards, needed to work on building sites.

The generosity of hospitality

Many fantastic bars, cafes and restaurants like Dehesa add a small donation onto their bills for customers, and we’re delighted that the incredible Old St cocktail bar Tayēr + Elementary are the latest to get involved with their ‘Beer and a shot of happiness’ – donating £5 to Switchback from every serve sold!

The ‘Beer and a shot of happiness’ at Tayer + Elementary. £5 from every serve goes to Switchback!
Get involved!

A huge THANK YOU to these amazing businesses and all our other fantastic partners, supporters and friends who make our work possible.

We’re always on the lookout for new partnerships: Switchback can work flexibly to facilitate everything from putting £1 on the bill at your restaurant through to workplace tours, work experience days, training placements or job opportunities for young prison-leavers. Partners have the peace of mind that every Switchback Trainee has a dedicated Switchback Mentor providing holistic 1-to-1 support throughout. If you’d like to work together, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch by emailing

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