Skill Mill is a social enterprise highly regarded for innovative approaches to addressing youth crime while bringing social and environmental benefits to communities.

Skill Mill was established in Newcastle-upon Tyne in 2013 to provide employment and training in outdoor work for prolific ex-offenders aged 16-18. Since then, its programmes have been extended across the UK.  In 2021 a new four-year outcomes contract was financed by a Social Impact Bond (SIB). There are eight SIB funded Skill Mill sites, and it is expected that approximately 250 young people who have been in the criminal justice system will go through the programme over four years.  We have been commissioned to develop and execute a comprehensive evaluation of the Skill Mill Social Impact Bond.

What is the need?

Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) originated in the UK a decade ago and remain politically contested. They are a form of outcomes-based commissioning where the finance needed to make the contract work comes from investors who provide up-front capital to organisations, often social enterprises, to delivery services. SIBS have neither fully entered the mainstream as their promoters anticipated nor withered into oblivion as their detractors hoped Wilson et al 2020 .

The Skill Mill intervention model is underpinned by the concept of desistance, which proposes that offenders need to move towards an alternative, coherent and pro-social identity in order to justify and maintain a crime-free life.  In contrast to the standard deficit-based ‘Risk, Needs and Responsivity’ model in criminal justice, desistance foregrounds assets, agency, and strengthening human and social capital. Many critics of SIBs consider that – as typically applied – they tend to marginalise the agency of people who are the targets of services, implying that they are unlikely to be congruent with expanding strengths-based approaches. Recent research at PERU challenges this position with evidence that strengths-based services can be developed within a SIB framework, and catalyse innovative service solutions  The evaluation of the Skill Mill SIB  is an opportunity to contribute to practical leaning about SIBs and also to add to PERU’s growing portfolio of leading-edge research on social investment.

What are we doing?

The Skill Mill SIB evaluation covers implementation and impact across eight sites, namely Birmingham, Croydon, Durham, Leeds, Nottingham, Rochdale/Bury, Surrey and West Sussex.  Whilst employed by the Skill Mill for six months, young people work on projects in groups of four with a supervisor. The work is commissioned by clients such as Local Authorities, businesses, and some non-profit organisations. There are three complementary stands to the evaluation, to run concurrently:

  • Process and outcomes (main focus young people, supervisors and local programme activities)
  • Business models (main focus, the programmes across the country, employers and other stakeholders)
  • SIB Evaluation (main focus, the SIB financing model)

What are the outcomes?

We will produce an interim report in mid-2022 and a final report at the end of the project.

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