Social enterprise and creative agency Green Fox Studio has used its Training Studio, which was developed in a men’s high security prison, to help disadvantaged people get back on their feet.
And with over 4,560 hours of training donated, 164 prisoners trained and employed, and only a 4% recidivism (reoffending) rate within this initial program, it seems safe to say it has been a success for co-founders Kelly Willmott and Amanda Shepherd.
“We started Green Fox Studio back in 2018,” Kelly says. “We are a creative agency that provides creative direction, branding, digital and print design, advertising, marketing, campaigns, 3D modelling, tenders and packaging design to our clients.
“Using the profit we make through our creative agency, we then donate training, equipment and resources to disadvantaged communities with our Training Studio.”
Having seen incredible outcomes within the prison system, Kelly and Amanda have set their sights on the wider community, and are now taking their Training Studio into other underprivileged areas.
“We identified that we could really make a difference in our community by providing training and education to people who hadn’t necessarily had that opportunity before,” Amanda says.
“The Training Studio focuses on providing real-world skills, with a view to gaining employment once the challenges they face are overcome.”
A helping hand
Green Fox Studio was awarded with a Women in Business Grant in 2021, which has helped with fast-tracking its Training Studio expansion and with further development of its learning platform, JumpStart.
“The Brisbane Business Hub has been a great resource for us,” Amanda says, “and we are now established in juvenile detention in New South Wales and with a disengaged youth program in Queensland, and are working towards assisting women’s groups in Victoria.”
Kelly adds that they’ve been able to bring JumpStart, which was originally an offline-only platform, online.
“Through this, our staff have the opportunity to contribute to the online resources available to the Training Studio, and this has allowed us to rely less on people power for in-person training,” she says.
More than the challenges
While the nature of the environments the Green Fox Training Studio works in can be complex, Kelly and Amanda say the highlights – on both a personal and professional level – far outweigh the challenges.
“Breaking down the barriers by hiring people with a criminal conviction has been a huge achievement for us,” Kelly says. “Not only have we hired and contracted some of our previous students, but we’ve also helped with placements outside of our business.
“We get to watch as our students are released from corrections and turn their lives around with the help of our training. Past students have seen success not just in the creative field, but across a range of industries, and we make it a priority to continue that mentoring process.
“It is great to see how they are succeeding, how far they’ve come and how they are continuing to achieve their goals.”
Amanda points to one moment that put what her team has been able to achieve in focus.
“For me a highlight was just looking around last Christmas and seeing that we’d built up this successful and highly functional team, with three former prisoners,” she says.
“Not only had they produced some amazing work for our clients, but it was so rewarding to see that we were helping them to spend their first Christmas with their families in a number of years.”
The cost of convictions
It costs the community $111,000 per year to keep a prisoner incarcerated, plus an estimated $48,000 per year in indirect social costs. Kelly and Amanda say that providing detainees with job-ready skills leads to a reduction in the rates of reoffending, and their experience with the prisoners they’ve worked with seems to bear this out.
“While incarcerated, there is an immense fear about what is going to be on the other side of the fence,” Amanda says. “Building up these skills and helping them to actually see that they can obtain great things and overcome barriers is really important.
“Even the small achievements they’ve been able to make whilst in the correctional system have given them a sense of pride and purpose, so that when they leave they feel they can go out and do anything.
“By not looking past a criminal conviction when hiring, you are robbing yourself of a wealth of knowledge, skills, understanding and experience.”
“Providing this opportunity to people is incredibly fulfilling,” Kelly adds, “and we need more business owners to provide more opportunities to ex-prisoners for a cohesive and sustainable society.”