At Virgin Trains, we’ve been actively recruiting people from prison since 2013. We wanted to explore what sort of additional talent we could access by opening the doors to people with convictions.

We started with the aim of recruiting just one person but have built on those modest beginnings to the point that this has become a regular part of our recruitment process. We now have more than 30 people working for our west coast business, hold regular recruitment fairs in prison and are looking at improving job training for people while they are still in prison.

The programme we have in place has helped us identify people with talent, dedication and flair; people who have a passion for their work who are helping our business to grow. We’re always looking for people who embody Virgin’s commitment to amazing and heartfelt customer service and this programme has identified some of our best people.

We know that this approach works, not just for us but for the communities we serve. It helps to end the destructive cycle of reoffending, ensures that people leaving prison are paying taxes and contributing to their communities and helps businesses thrive by identifying people with talent. We want other businesses to also benefit from this great source of talent and help their local communities at the same time.

As well as recruiting people directly from prison, we want to make sure our business as usual recruitment processes are also welcoming people with convictions.

Anonymity is a big help for people with convictions getting back into work. Colleagues with convictions want a fresh start and to break from their past. So we’ve adopted a policy whereby all recruits can choose whether or not to disclose their convictions, which offers them that opportunity. The relevant managers within the business will know about their background, and the choice of whether to discuss this more widely with colleagues is their own.

Another step we have taken is to “ban the box” – ensuring people do not have to declare a criminal conviction on the job application form. We do this because we know that a lot of potential recruits will be put off from applying for roles if they have to declare the conviction history in advance. Instead we use the face to face interview as the time to talk about potential convictions and the circumstances around those crimes as well as their current situation.

If we have any hesitations, we will say no. That doesn’t mean it’s a no from Virgin Trains forever. In fact, we have colleagues who used their first unsuccessful interview with us as motivation to make a change. This was impetus enough for them to make changes and we hired them later down the line.

We have checks in place to offer our customers and our people peace of mind. Some of these, such as a probationary period, are standard across all employees. Others are specific to the ex-offenders we hire. We make sure that their HR Business Partner is aware of their background so that they can provide additional support when needed. The HR team have regular catch-ups with each person on the programme. The topics of discussion vary according to what they would like help navigating through and the support they receive is usually advice for simple conundrums.

Opening our doors to people with convictions has involved some big steps and we’ve learned a lot along the way. But we’re delighted with this approach as it has identified some amazing people who are now delivering a great service to our customers. And most importantly we are proud to have been able to offer a second chance to people who needed one.