How Timpson has changed the lives of people in Cheshire
- Credit: Kirsty Thompson/Archant
Timpson is widely acknowledged as one of the top British companies to work for. Jade Wright spoke to the ex-prisoner who inspired the family business's ground-breaking policy of employing ex-offenders, and to other staff who benefit from its innovative working practices
Matthew Gallagher, Stockton Heath
‘It was one of those moments in life that could have gone either way – turn left and I’d have the life I have now, a great job, mortgage and two amazing kids. Turn right and I could have gone back to my old life, behaving like a thug. I could be back in prison right now.’
Matthew Gallagher turned left. He went on to become the first of hundreds of offenders employed by Timpson, and now manages his own store.
‘If I hadn’t met James Timpson that day, nearly 20 years ago, I honestly don’t know where I’d be now,’ he says.
What happened that day also changed the course of James Timpson's life – again for the better. As well as being CEO of his family firm, James is now chair of the Prison Reform Trust and was presented with an OBE in 2011 for the training and employment of disadvantaged people.
On that day, back in 2003, Matthew had been asked to show James and some of his executive team around Thorn Cross Prison in Appleton Thorn, near Warrington, where he was serving a four-year sentence for assault. The pair had an immediate rapport.
‘I read everything I could find about the company, and I wanted to know more,’ says Matt. He was so keen that an interview was set up with one of the company’s recruiters.
‘The interviewer said I asked more questions than he did, and offered me a chance to get work experience in the Warrington branch, which I started while I was still in prison. I’d be let out in the morning, go and do my day’s work, then go back to my cell at night.
‘Looking back, it must have been strange for the manager and the team I worked with. On my first day they weren’t sure if they had to go with me on my lunch, if I was allowed out or if I’d try to run off, but by the end of that day we were laughing together and it started to seem normal.
‘It really helped me settle back into normal life, too. At first, when I’d leave the prison, it felt really weird. There were cars everywhere, birds flying around, people talking. When I first went in a supermarket I had to walk out again because it felt so overwhelming. But I got used to being out in the world again, I’d look forward to my days at work, to seeing my workmates and serving the customers.’
Matthew, 39, who worked in factories when he was growing up in St Helens, was so good at his new job that he was promoted to assistant manager before he finished his sentence.
‘I have had so much support from everyone at Timpson,’ says Matthew. ‘I’ve never felt judged or different. They take everyone as they find them, and they trust us to do a good job.’
When Matthew was released in 2004, after serving two years in prison, he started working for the company full time, in branches across Cheshire, becoming manager at Warrington Mall, and now running the Stockton Heath site, next to Morrisons.
‘I know everyone says it, but it really is a great company to work for,’ he says. ‘I know so many people who have had help and support from James – and John (James’s father, and the company’s chairman).
‘They treat you with trust and give you freedom to manage the branch how you want to.
‘Getting this job changed my whole life. For the first time, I knew what I wanted to do. I also knew that they’d put a lot of trust in me, so I had to show them they’d made the right decision.
‘It gave me confidence that I’d never had before.’
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Since Matthew started, Timpson has become one of the largest employers of ex-offenders in the UK. Approximately a tenth of the workforce is now made up of people who have criminal convictions – staff who are taking a second chance and giving back to society.
‘James was one of the first people to see that we could have something to offer,’ says Matthew. ‘We need more people in businesses like him, and now other employers have followed, and there are more companies looking to recruit people from prisons.
‘I am so thankful that I met him that day. He took a chance giving me a job and changed my life forever.’
James Timpson, CEO, on meeting Matthew.
'Eighteen years ago I was invited to HMP Thorn Cross near Warrington to meet the inmates, and to see if any would make good colleagues, says James. 'It opened my eyes to another world, a world where people had failed society, and they wanted a second chance at life. My guide for the day was Matthew, a young man who had six months to go until he was released. His dream of going to University was over due to his criminal record, and he wanted a job to make his parents proud of him. I liked him a lot.
'His personality was just what we look for. He was interesting, funny, energetic and kind. On the spot I gave him my business card and said I would give him a trial on release. The rest they say is history.
'Matthew was the first of over 1000 colleagues we have recruited from prison since that day 18 years ago, and it’s been one of the best things we have ever done. Thank you Matthew for showing us the way.'
'It was the best thing that’s ever happened to me': What staff love about their jobs
Ricky Murphy, Winsford
‘When I applied for a job at Timpson I really wasn’t expecting to hear back,’ says 34-year-old Ricky Murphy. ‘I’d had an accident at work in my previous job and after I got out of hospital I knew I had to change careers. Timpson took me on with no previous experience and put me straight on a 16-week training course. It was the best thing that’s ever happened to me.’
Ricky has worked his way up over 11 years with the company and now manages the Winsford branch, inside Morrisons.
He is a keen charity fundraiser.
‘I have three children and one of my daughters had to have a big operation at Alder Hey children’s hospital,’ he says. ‘Afterwards I wanted to give something back so I did a mountain climb, which the company very kindly donated to.
‘It’s a real family company. When my children were born, they were very good about paternity leave and they gave us vouchers to get things for the babies.
‘We've had three visits to the holiday homes, at Ribby Hall and Filey, which were brilliant.
‘Then it’s the little things like being given your birthday off work. This year mine was on my regular day off, so they gave me the day off before too, which was an unexpected bonus.’
Mark Yeold, Northwich
Forty-eight-year-old Mark Yeold is another former trainee who has worked his way up through the business, although his journey has also included a series of sabbaticals to see the world.
Now, his journey has come full circle after starting in the Northwich branch as a 15-year-old, back in 1989.
He became an in-branch trainer, and moved to London, working on staff development there.
‘I did a stint in the square mile, which was great, working in the different shops,’ he explains.
But he always had the idea that he’d like to travel further afield.
‘Having started so young in the job, I wanted to see a bit more of the world. Initially, I had a bit of a sabbatical, where I’d work for a month, then go off for three months traveling. I was really lucky they let me do it.
‘Then I wanted to go away for a bit longer, so I left the company for a while, saw the world, and ended up coming back to Cheshire.’
After bumping into an old friend who still worked for the company, Mark returned to the business, managing the Northwich branch, where he’s been for 11 years.
‘My friend rang James and told him I was back,’ says Mark. ‘I got a call that day, asking if I wanted a job.
‘I can’t imagine many places where every member of staff has the CEO’s number.’
Gary Garlick, Knutsford
Gary Garlick, who runs the Knutsford branch, also left the company and came back.
‘It’s like a drug,’ he laughs. ’I couldn’t stay away. I’ve been back for 10 years, and with the company for 30 in total, with a few years out while my children were younger.
‘At the end of the day, everyone looks out for each other here. If you can help someone else, you do, and that makes a big difference in how it feels to work somewhere. You genuinely feel part of something.
‘I’m lucky – I get a lot of job satisfaction from the work I do, too. I know lots of the customers here by name. We have a lot of shoe repairs, maybe because people here spend more on their shoes. I’ve repaired some very fancy shoes over the years.’
Gary, aged 53, puts his repairing expertise down to the training he had when he first started.
‘They were old-fashioned cobblers and they had so many skills,’ he says.
‘We get customers coming in looking apologetic with a bag of shoes saying: “I don’t think you’ll be able to do anything with these” and when they come to collect it’s great to see the look of surprise on their faces. I’m always glad to be able to give something a new lease of life.’
Laura Adams, area development manager, Cheshire and at the Midlands
Laura covers the area across Cheshire and the Midlands, and has worked for the company for more than 20 years.
‘Everyone is hands on,’ she explains. ‘I started off learning shoe repair, keys, engraving and watch repair when I was a trainee, and now I get to be part of the recruitment process, bringing new trainees in. I love seeing people come into the company. It’s such a great team to be part of.’
When Timpson celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2016, Laura, 41, was nominated by her colleagues to be one of 150 members of staff taken to Malta by the company as a thank you for all their hard work.
‘It was one of the best experiences of my life,’ she says. ‘It was such an amazing trip. I met so many people who work in other areas. It’s just one of the many things that the company offers its staff.
‘For me as a manager, knowing that there is so much support in place makes a huge difference too. I know that if a member of staff is struggling then there are lots of ways we can help them, whether that’s suggesting they take a break with their family in one of the holiday homes or being able to offer additional training to develop their career.’
The Timpson family
It’s a familiar site on high streets and in supermarkets around the country, but Timpson has its roots firmly in Cheshire. Timpson, known for its innovative employment practices, with everything from supporting staff through the menopause with free prescriptions to lending out the chairman's car for staff weddings. It has more than 2,100 outlets in the United Kingdom and Ireland, offering shoe repairs, key cutting and locksmith services, engraving, dry cleaning and photo-processing. The company, which was founded in 1865, is still owned by the Timpson family. Chairman John Timpson lives in Cheshire and raised his family here. Its CEO James Timpson, who learned the family business by working in the Northwich branch, is a Deputy Lieutenant of Cheshire, and lives in the county with his wife and family..