Who We Are
The Skill Mill is a multi-award-winning social enterprise which provides employment opportunities for young people aged between sixteen and eighteen. We employ only ex-offenders, actively reducing reoffending whilst increasing engagement, participation, employability and educational levels of the young people to increase their life chances.
The Skill Mill is supported by an Advisory Board of representatives from the public, private and voluntary sectors. It is this partnership which makes the Skill Mill unique and brings significant added value.
What We Do
The stigma attached to having a criminal record, lack of previous opportunity and the negative societal attitudes towards children who have committed offences creates enormous barriers for children. Often even with the best will in the world children are unable to access education, training or employment opportunities which are vital to helping them move forwards with their lives. The Skill Mill removes these barriers and enables them to gain work skills, knowledge and importantly confidence.
The Skill Mill provides employment opportunities in water and land based management, helping to reduce flood risk and improve the local environment. In turn, this brings social and environmental benefits to communities by involving local people directly in the delivery of services. Children undertake accredited training and achieve a nationally recognised qualification. They acquire knowledge and skills by working alongside local private contractors and partners. Follow on employment opportunities with partner organisations and the wider labour market are sought for each employee and support towards this goal is provided from the outset. Each cohort receives six months paid employment, invaluable practical real work experience, a nationally recognised qualification, and further opportunities for progression with local companies at the end of their time with The Skill Mill.
Improve the flow of watercourses and contribute to the reduction of flood risk.
Increase engagement, participation, employability and educational levels of the young people and move them closer to long term sustainable employment.
Reduce re-offending and increase community safety through engagement of ex-offenders in employment.
Demonstrate to others the importance of innovative thinking and the benefits of moving away from existing high cost contracting to resolve water related issues.
The Skill Mill was established in 2013. The idea initially came about after the Environment Agency approached Newcastle Youth Offending Team (YOT) about cleaning-up local waterways. Sessions were then organised where young people would work for 5 hours per day on watercourse tasks. It soon became evident that reoffending rates for the young people taking part were lower than the national average.
The Skill Mill was then launched to provide young people taking part in the sessions with progression routes into employment. The first site Skill Mill site was set up in Newcastle in 2014, others soon followed in the North of England and even in the Estonian capital, Tallinn.
In 7 years, The Skill Mill has employed 197 young people in the UK. Just 17 of those have been re-convicted. This means our re-conviction rate is just 9%, compared to a counter factual of 72% for young offenders with 11+ convictions. 75% of the young people The Skill Mill has employed have progressed to further employment, education, or training.
Newcastle, UK (established in 2013 and began trading February 2014);
Leeds, UK (established August 2015);
Tallinn, Estonia (established January 2016);
Durham, UK (established July 2017)
West Sussex (established February 2021)
Northumberland (opening 2021)
UN Sustainability Development Goals
The work of The Skill Mill is intimately connected with the UN Sustainability Development Goals.
The focused work supports young men and women out of the criminal justice system, through paid employment, undertaking meaningful physical work and improving the natural environment. This aligns with the goals noted:
Goal 1 - End Poverty:
The Skill Mill works exclusively with young people who are disadvantaged in many ways. They are identified foremost by their behaviours which have brought them into the criminal justice system. These behaviours are overwhelmingly symptomatic of poverty. At The Skill Mill all the beneficiaries complete a poverty stoplight questionnaire which has been co-designed by Skill Mill and Poverty Stoplight Foundation in order that they can self-assess poverty indicators and develop an action plan to address the barriers. Furthermore the paid job, skill development and qualifications contribute significantly to lifting the young people out of poverty with ripple effects into their families and communities.
Goal 3 – Good Health:
Employment on the scheme provides a structured environment where the combination of drug and alcohol are not acceptable. As such the ongoing work provides an opportunity for reduced drug and alcohol intake leading to direct benefits for the individuals concerned with positive follow on impacts to their communities. The Skill Mill offers employment which is primarily outdoors and physically challenging. The combination of physical work in nature has demonstrable physical and mental health and wellbeing benefits.
Goal 4 – Quality Education:
Many of the individuals employed by The Skill Mill have not engaged with the education system. As such the The Skill Mill provides a structured environment where basic qualifications are secured and with their experience provide a sound basis for ongoing employment.
Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation:
The Skill Mill actively improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping. The Skill Mill works within the Water Framework Directive and is a partner in the Catchment Area for Tyne and Wear.
Goal 8 – Good Jobs and Economic Growth:
The practice of regular routine work helps increase economic productivity and connects job creation with environmental improvement. As a social enterprise The Skill Mill is a highly innovative organisation which is using economic activity to deliver material benefits to society at large and the individuals who it serves. This has been recognised at Government level as a model to be adopted elsewhere. It reduces the number of youth not in employment or education.
Goal 9 - Innovation:
Through co-design and design thinking techniques between The Skill Mill and its partners there has been progress in developing innovative approaches to solving the problem of youth crime. The approaches have been recognised in the UK with a number of innovation competitions recognising the practice including The Environment Agency and the Youth Justice Board (England and Wales). The Skill Mill is a lead partner for the COST Association Action Multi-Disciplinary Innovation for Social Change.
Goal 10 – Reduce Inequality:
The Skill Mill empowers and promotes the social, economic and political inclusion of young people, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status with the excluded young offenders providing the individuals with means and confidence to positively engage with the society around them and engage with the wider labour market.
Goal 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities:
The Skill Mill works with young people living in communities where economic decline and deprivation has been severe. The model has been recognised by Eurocitiesas an example of effective practice in Newcastle upon Tyne where the model began and now operating in many other cities in England. The work itself benefits communities by delivering services which improve the local environment, increase civic pride and care for public spaces and community assets.
Goal 12 – Sustainable Consumption and Production:
The Skill mill has an environmental management policy which has a goal for zero waste. All green waste is disposed of safely in municipal amenities sites unless it can be reused in the form of dead hedges etc. The Skill Mill is now supplying face masks which use only 100% natural materials, and there is no waste in the production process. The Skill Mill has a paperless policy and meets this 90% of the time. All unavoidable paper use is with recycled materials. The Skill Mill organises a separate project Edible designed to reduce food waste and has piloted this activity with a supermarket chain.
Goal 13 – Climate Action:
The Skill Mill is first and foremost an environmental services organisation. It provides services which care for the maintenance of local urban green spaces and also rural land maintenance. Work is undertaken to reduce flood risk arising from increased risk through climate change. The Skill Mill organises the annual World Cleanup Day which is a global event mobilising citizens, community groups, corporations and government bodies to participate in a day of action to highlight the issue of waste and especially single use plastic. During 2019 over 200 events were organised across the UK and included over 20,000 people.
Goal 14 - Life Below Water:
The Skill Mill has partnerships with a number of water friendly organisations including Northumberland Rivers Trust, Canal and River Trust, Thames Water, Severn Trent Water and Northumbrian Water. The Skill Mill provides services which contribute to protection against environmental degradation, overfishing, climate change and pollution.
Goal 15 - Life on Land:
The Skill Mill is committed to protecting natural habitats and managing woodland sustainably. Tree planting, habitat building, vegetation cleanups and litter picking are just a few of the activities which are frequently carried out across our teams. We are committed to connecting people to nature, and promote the protection of green spaces.
Goal 17 – Partnerships for the Goals:
One of the defining features of The Skill Mill is the scope and scale of the partnerships that have been developed in each location. Skill Mill has received recognition for the unique triple-helix approach to solving multiple social and environmental impact. In 2019 Skill Mill received the Children and Young People Now Partnership Working Award. The academic community, civil society organisations, corporations and citizens are all working together through The Skill Mill to support the development and co-design solutions to the social and environmental challenges.