Meet the Member: Spark Inside

Criminal Justice Alliance - 25 September 2020

For our next #MeetTheMember blog, we spoke to Indy Cross, Head of Communications at Spark Inside, a charity which runs coaching programmes in prison to encourage rehabilitation and reduce reoffending. Indy discusses how having loved ones with lived experience drew her to working in criminal justice, and how Spark Inside has continued supporting young men in prison during the pandemic.

What is your background?

I believe in the potential of people and I value fairness and equality, and my career has reflected this. I began in comms at the age of 22 at Connexions and then went on to the Government Equalities Office. After that, I had a rollercoaster two years at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the London 2012 Festival and Cultural Olympiad, after which I got married and went off the grid in the Maldives! I then began working for Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones, supporting young people to become entrepreneurs. I’ve been at Spark Inside for a few years now. It is my first role in Criminal Justice.

What drew you to working in the criminal justice sector?

I have loved ones that have lived experience, which had a real impact on me growing up. Looking back at how they transformed their lives is incredibly inspiring – I’ve seen first-hand how much potential people in prisons have. The role at Spark Inside came up and it felt completely right.

What does your role involve?

My role is split three ways – comms, policy and grant-funding. My focus is on profile raising and awareness, advocacy and influencing policy, and generating grant income. I have excellent people around me to make this happen.

Can you describe your organisation in a few sentences?

Spark Inside runs coaching programmes in prisons across London and the South East, to encourage rehabilitation and help reduce reoffending. Our expert coaches are qualified and trained professionals, who are skilled at empowering young people and groups of people (systems) to come up with their own solutions. We believe those living and working in prisons are the experts and we put them at the heart of our work.

What do you love most about working at your organisation?

The people – our team, Trustees, coaches. I say this a lot, but they genuinely all have talent and heart.

What are you currently working on? What are your organisation’s biggest focuses right now?

Like a lot of us, we have been working on adapting and innovating to ensure we are still able to have an impact in some way during lockdown. Our focus now is to push forward with our coaching by trialling new models, methods and partnerships, such as coaching in the community with Youth Offending Services in London and designing digital life coaching resources.

A focus for me currently is to publicly advocate for a better recovery plan from COVID-19 for those in prison.

How is your organisation responding to the challenges of COVID-19?

The first thing we did was to reach out to the young people in prison that we coach. We sent letters, emails, set up a freephone number and launched a three-month long Prison Radio campaign, broadcasting motivational messages from our life coaches.

We then started offering life coaching to prison staff. The aim was not only to support them during a challenging time, but to equip them with the tools to better support the young people living in prison, who’ve had all their provisions and human contact taken away.

We remain positive about some of the new ways of working in the community and digitally, but we’re eager to get back to the young people in prison as soon as we can. In the meantime, we continue to advocate for those living in prison during lockdown, as we believe it’s important that they are not forgotten.

What has been your proudest moment or achievement at your organisation?

I’m proud that we were given funding from The Listening Fund to set up our in-prison advisory boards. The boards are made up of young people that we’ve coached, as well as senior members of the team, and gives us a structured way of truly listening to their feedback, opinions and ideas.

More recently, our CEO Vicki Cardwell appeared on the BBC’s The Big Questions, which was a big moment for the comms team. It was Spark Inside’s first live TV coverage and was an incredible opportunity to make the case for rehabilitation.

Do you have any routines or habits that help you succeed?

We start our weekly comms team meetings with a gratitude session, where we tell each other what we’ve been thankful for that week. It isn’t always work-related, but it helps to celebrate big and small things in life. This ritual, along with my daily coffee, I would recommend to all!

Do you have any hobbies?

Reading is a big passion of mine. I read every spare minute and I feel the most at peace in a bookshop.

Favourite book?

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (I can’t pick one!)

Favourite song?

Beyonce’s Formation.

Favourite film?

Rosemary’s Baby. Or Ratatouille! My son Leo has watched it pretty much every day during lockdown and surprisingly, I’m not sick of it!

Favourite podcast?

I’ve loved listening to Grounded with Louis Theroux recently.

What advice would you give to someone else in your role?

If in doubt, talk to people living and working in prisons. They know best.

What do you like most about being a member of the Criminal Justice Alliance?

There’s something comforting about being part of a coalition of people that are doing good things in the system.

Our Meet the Member series shines a spotlight on the organisations and individuals working towards a fairer and more effective criminal justice system. If you’re a CJA member and you would like to be featured on our blog, contact jamie.morrell@criminaljusticealliance.org.uk.