Raw Talent: Why employing the 'unemployable'

Posted on 18 May 2022

“There is gold in everyone,” says John Daynes, a prison leaver who came to work at COOK seven years ago. Through our RAW Talent programme I’ve learned he is right. And the gold we discover in others brings genuine value to COOK both as a business and a community.

RAW stands for Ready And Working and the programme helps people with barriers to employment into sustainable work. Those barriers might be time spent in prison, addiction, mental health issues or refugee status, among others. We have worked with well over 100 RAW Talents over the years and learned that, given the right support, encouragement and environment, people discover gifts they didn’t know they had. They grow in confidence and thrive, both personally and professionally. And in return, COOK gets brilliant and committed colleagues with so much to offer.

Take John. He came to us through a local homeless charity we were supporting with free food. Up to then he had experienced a life of addiction, crime and prison. He was desperate to change. What he needed most was a steady job.

John would be the first to tell you the transition to work wasn’t straightforward. But through his perseverance and with support, he has flourished. Today he is part of the RAW Talent team, mentoring others. He is married with a young family and his own home. As he would put it, he is discovering the real person previously buried deep inside.

The benefits of RAW Talent to John as an individual are obvious. And there are also big benefits to our culture and business at COOK. Through contact with RAW Talent, people feel their work gives them an opportunity every day to help others and make a difference, which is motivating. Our culture has become less judgemental, kinder and more open to learning; qualities that help drive business performance.

Working alongside our RAW Talents has excavated the gold in me, too. I have been forced to confront the reality of ugly crime, to test whether the values I speak of are as easy to live (they’re not!). I have been made conscious of passing judgement on others and tested the limits of my compassion. I have learned humility, listening to life experiences that I know would have broken me but which have not broken our RAW Talents. Our past life should not define or limit our future. Justice is important and so is rehabilitation.

Above all, I have come to see that, in the words of the late Jo Cox: “We have more in common, than that which divides us”. Whether we are in prison, a corner office in a gilded corporate tower, or the local homeless shelter, we all share the same human needs: to feel seen, valued and have a sense of belonging.

As John says, there is gold in all of us: gifts we can contribute to the world. Sometimes, that gold is hidden deep inside rough, grey rock that’s easy to dismiss as lacking value. But as fellow human beings – and especially as business leaders – it is our job to mine for the gold in others. Because, as we’ve learned at COOK, we all become richer when we do.


Tips to get started in offering jobs to the under-served:

• Contact local organisations in your area with underserved populations – prisons, charities, refugees, homeless shelters and explore any partnership opportunities.

• In a new initiative, most prisons now have an Employment Board looking to build links with local employers.

• Start an open dialogue with your team about your goals, and bring them on the journey with you.

• Think about what support and training the under-served groups, and your team, might need to succeed.

• Speak to people who have gone before you – there are plenty of us willing to share our learnings (links below)


Links to:

• The New Futures Network brokers relationships between Employers and Prisons in England & Wales – www.newfuturesnetwork.gov.uk

• The COOK RAW Talent Programme hosts regular events to share our programme & learnings rawtalent@cookfood.net

• EFFRR – Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending, chaired by Greggs beckie.rowland@greggs.co.uk


Rosie Brown, CEO COOK.

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