Why was Switchback founded?

Switchback was established on the premise that whilst there are many agencies that do excellent work in their specialist area, ex-offenders often lack the confidence, knowledge and continuity of support to realise their options and therefore find it hard to live life differently. It is the gap that Switchback sought to address when it started delivery in the early 2008, and continues to fill today.

Why don't you work with women?

Switchback works with young male offenders aged 18-30. The majority are from East and Central London. We currently have specialist skills in working with young men. Women coming out of prison tend to have different needs. Several charities already exist that recognise this and work specifically with women.

What's a typical Trainee like?

There’s no such thing! We don\’t work with sex offenders but other than that, we don’t select on offence type or behaviour in prison. Trainees make an extraordinary choice to take a difficult journey with us – often because they have the most to gain from being in a place where things are different, not the shortest distance to travel to get there. All work through a complex matrix of challenges and many Trainees:

  • Face homelessness on or shortly after release.
  • Have an addict’s relationship with crime.
  • Have highly complex family relationships and young children of their own.
  • Know very little about the workplace and society’s infrastructures and systems.
  • Respond to new or challenging situations with aggression or anger. 

What difference does it make?

More than 70% of Trainees who have successfully been through the programme have started a permanent job. 12% of Switchback Trainees reoffend within a year compared to a norm of 55%. For us, neither of these measures is enough on its own. We want to be able to look Trainees in the eye and know that their outlook has really changed. We focus on building stability. 59% of Trainees have made this profound positive change.

I've heard of prison mentoring. Is that what you do?

Switchback Mentors are not volunteers. They are full-time, paid and highly skilled. They understand prison life and know the environment and personalities on the wings. They also know where Trainees come from and get to know the network of people connected to each Trainee such as their mother, Probation Officer and girlfriend. We work in a very different, more intensive way. After release, we are in touch with Trainees daily. Anything from a quick chat to several hours talking through a single issue. As well as weekly action-planning, we accompany them to appointments, introduce them to various workplaces and expose them to new things in London and beyond. Our approach is semi-therapeutic. We support and encourage but we also challenge.

How long is long term?

We stand by Trainees for as long as it takes. We avoid quick-fix solutions even if it means seeing Trainees make mistakes and taking the long way round. Trainees decide when they’re ready to move on from Switchback. The average length of contact is 21 months.

Do Trainees always move on into in catering?

Around half of Switchback Trainees gain hospitality roles. Others also move into other areas such as retail, construction and administrations or into training or university.

Where do you get your funding?

Switchback is committed to an approach which seeks not to rely on income (including statutory funding) that places unrealistic demands on outcomes for Trainees. Instead, charitable trusts and foundations account for about 60% and we aim to maintain a balance of funding and not rely on any one donor.