Social Enterprise leading the charge in tackling prisoner education secures £150,000 of investment

The Bank of America-backed Growth Impact Fund, developed by Big Issue Invest and UnLtd, announces its second investment

Thursday 1st June, 2023- Doing What Really Matters (DMRM), a social enterprise that works with universities to offer degree courses to facilitate prisoner rehabilitation, has received £150,000 in funding.

The Growth Impact Fund, a social impact investment fund developed by Big Issue Invest (BIIFM) and UnLtd has provided the backing in order for the organisation to increase the number of students in prison accessing Further and Higher Education to 25% of the prison population within 10 years – an increase of 20,000 students. 

It is well-documented that both prisoners and prison leavers have limited access to educational resources and opportunities, and DWRM works with universities and employers to help them reintegrate into society.

DWRM’s Co-Founder Dan Whyte established the company after leaving prison in April 2021 with his co-founder, Ruth McFarlane, an educator and practitioner in the prison education field, Dan achieved undergraduate and postgraduate degrees while in prison and is now studying for a PhD in criminology at the University of Westminster. DWRM is a meaningful way to invest in the long-term structural and institutional challenges faced by prisoners and prison leavers. 

Dan Whyte said “I have had to overcome significant obstacles to achieve my place within the academic community, and I now use this alongside my extensive lived experience to work towards effective systems change within the Criminal Justice System. This is evidenced by what we have been able to accomplish at DWRM within our first 3 years – changes in policy, contributing to prison staff training and raising aspirations of the prison population. This paves the way for all those who are following behind me and demonstrates how an authentic voice can affect real change.”

Research by the Ministry of Justice 2019 highlighted that people who had participated in education whilst in prison were significantly less likely to reoffend within 12 months of release than those who had not by 7.5% points i.e. a reoffending rate of 32.6% from a baseline one-year reoffending rate of 40.1% but despite this the number of prisoners participating in a course equivalent to AS-levels or above showed a 90% decrease compared to the 2010/11 academic year.

DWRM’s Co-Founder, Ruth McFarlane, said: “We encourage people to have high aspirations for their employment and address the lack of progression opportunities that exist. There are providers who have been delivering distance learning in prisons for a long time but students don’t have a lot of choice. We’ve also worked with universities to get permission for students that have been released from prison to continue their studies on campus.

“The House of Commons Education Committee in 2016 (The Coates Review) and 2022 recommended that education should be “at the heart of the prison system” but we’ve seen that this hasn’t happened leaving prisoners without basic literacy and digital skills.” 

H, 23 from London, said: “I didn’t engage much in school but managed to get my Level 2 English and Maths Functional Skills qualifications while in a Youth Offending Institute. DWRM helped me through a Westminster Foundation module. I wanted to be as academically prepared as possible before leaving prison.”

Despite having no prior experience at this level of study, H achieved an overall grade of 2:1 (68%) for the module and upon release has continued his studies with the University of Westminster since June 2022. DWRM has provided ongoing mentoring and support to help H transition from being a student in prison to a student on campus. H is currently working part-time alongside his studies and is due to begin a full degree program in September.

Lord Bird, Founder of The Big Issue, who is currently supporting the Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill through the House of Commons, and spent spells in prison as a teenager himself,  said: “I am really pleased that Big Issue Invest is supporting DWRM’s brilliant work with education for prisoners. I myself was educated in the custodial system and can honestly say without that I would have genuinely struggled to achieve what I have today. By providing an education for people in prison, you are not just reducing the risk of recidivism, but you are also giving people a new chance in life to both add to society and realise their own potential, it’s hard to overstate how important this is. With the right resources and support from organisations such as Big Issue Invest and DWRM, we can make a real difference to people’s lives.”

Sarah Faber, Investment Director for the Fund, at Big Issue Invest, said: “The Growth Impact Fund was established to invest in founders like Dan who have lived experience of the issues they are tackling and have worked to build innovative solutions.”

Mathu Jeyaloganathan, Head of Investment at UnLtd, said: “We really believe in the mission of DWRM and are excited to be investing in an organisation that can have real change within the criminal justice system. While many mainstream banks may reject someone with experience of the prison system for a loan, we found Dan’s lived experience to be critical to the success of the business and the impact its generating.”

The Fund is backed by investors including Bank of America, Access – The Foundation for Social Investment, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Social enterprises interested in the Growth Impact Fund can visit to learn more and register their interest or email [email protected]

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