Lee running in Prague

How a paid internship proved a gamechanger

Author: | 10 Feb 2022

For graduates internships are a well-recognised route into a career, often providing that all-important introduction into a sector or profession which might otherwise seem closed. Whether it’s finance, accounting, engineering or journalism, a degree is significant but it is estimated that an internship improves the chances of securing a job by as much as three times.

At Longford Trust, as part of our new employability programme, we have bolstered efforts to partner with employers to provide these vital placements. The list of employers who scholars have worked with range from the heart of Whitehall (Cabinet Office) to policing (Office of West Midlands Police and Crime Commission) and charities (Justice; Justice Gap and the Criminal Justice Alliance).

The Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA) is now hosting its fifth Longford scholar intern and has become a beacon for others.

Artist and ex-scholar Lee Cutter helped the CJA run its annual awards last year. Lee and the CJA’s Communications and Engagement Officer Jamie Morrell talked about their experience….

Why was the timing right?

Lee: I guess previously I’d had 5 ½ years working with Koestler Arts in their events and exhibitions team and the CJA internship came at a perfect time. I’d left Koestler (based in London) to live in France a year before and moving in a pandemic, everything was in lockdown. I’d been unemployed for a year, unable to go out and speak with people, so my confidence had dropped quite a lot. So this internship came up and it was an opportunity to build my confidence, bring some skills with me in and also it was an opportunity to learn some new skills and work in a new team. I’d never done an internship before.

How much of a difference did it make that this was a paid internship?

It made a huge difference just knowing my input was valued in this way. People deserve to be paid for their work. To be honest I’m pretty sure most people would agree.

Tell us about what you worked on …

I worked on the CJA’s annual awards, which was held online due to the pandemic. The awards celebrate individuals and organisations helping make the criminal justice system fairer and more effective. There are media awards too which spotlight journalists, documentary makers and digital media champions who are improving public understanding of criminal justice and challenging misperceptions. Initially, I was encouraging people to nominate themselves or others. Through this process, I found out about new, brilliant things happening in the sector. I coordinated the entries for the judges and worked with Jamie and the video production team to deliver the online ceremony, broadcast live from a studio in London.

 Any testing moments?

Yeah, (laughs) there were moments. Technical ones, like when the award winners were struggling to join the live call. There were a couple of touch- and- go moments. Luckily, there was only one hiccup in the end with one award winner but it went smoothly on the whole. And to be honest I quite enjoy problem-solving, being in that moment.

For most of the internship you worked remotely, how was that?

I wondered how that would be but from the first day I felt so welcome in the team. I don’t even know if it was extra effort for the team, it was just them being themselves. To feel valued from the first day was great. We had lots of small meetings and they wouldn’t always be just work-focused, more like general conversations about your week, things like that. The little things which make you feel valued as a person. And the stuff you’d have if you were going into an office every day.

There was an unexpected bonus trip though, tell us about that…

Oh yeah, the trip to Prague! That certainly wasn’t in the job description. It all happened very fast. It was a knowledge exchange trip between Holland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and England and we were exchanging learning about the different prison systems, what works, what doesn’t. I’d been working at the CJA for one week, and then I was off to Prague just as the borders were opening [with the lifting of Covid restrictions]. They were a brilliant few days. We visited an open prison, which had a garden and a small farm with a llama that we fed. It was very different from what we do – it was for around 32 people whereas our open prisons are a lot larger. There was a lot more 1:1 support.

We also took part in the Yellow Ribbon Run, a relay race which brings together people with convictions, people working in the criminal justice system and members of the public to raise awareness of the importance of second chances (I was pleased to beat Jamie’s time – she’s super competitive!)

What key new skills did you acquire at CJA?

It was a chance for me to bring in skills I’d had from before and use them in a new setting. But one thing I learned is that the criminal justice sector is bigger than arts and criminal justice. It’s been interesting learning about the different bubbles. And my writing skills had been lacking a bit. Jamie helped me improve in this area, showing me how I could cut down a 1,000 word award nomination into a short, punchy bio for the awards brochure while still doing justice to the great organisations.

So Jamie, what was it like working with Lee?

Jamie, Criminal Justice Alliance

Jamie: Lee’s obviously very talented, intelligent and thoughtful, which is a massive help.

But the key thing about the Longford internships for the CJA is that it’s not just about what we want to get out of the experience, it’s what the intern wants to get out of it too. Lee already had experience of running large exhibitions and handling submissions from lots of artists, which was useful in helping deliver the CJA Awards. But we want to have a conversation to find out what additional skills our interns would like to gain. Lee lacked confidence in writing. Actually, when I read his descriptions of the organisations for the brochure I thought they were very well-written, but I gave him some extra hints and tips to tighten things up and Lee made some tweaks and then it was ready for the brochure.

Lee has expertise both professionally and from his lived experience. He provided lots of fresh ideas and insights during his internship. These insights help the CJA team think about things in a slightly different way.

We also enjoyed having Lee’s artistic presence on the team. When our European partners visited London in November as part of the knowledge exchange programme, Lee gave us all a fascinating tour of the Koestler Arts exhibition. We also went to see his work in the Royal Academy – we were blown away by his intricate soap carvings!

If anyone’s thinking of doing an internship partnering with the Longford Trust– either as an intern or an employer- what is the real benefit?   

Lee: For me it was a gamechanger. My confidence grew, being part of such a nurturing team. If I made a mistake, I was able to talk about the mistake, we could develop on that, it was all about growing and learning. Who wouldn’t want that?

Jamie: Interns offer valuable expertise and a fresh perspective to your organisation and anyone who employs an intern with lived experience will not regret it.


Inspired? If you’re an employer or a scholar interested in internship opportunities, we’d love to hear from you, scholars@longfordtrust.org.

The Criminal Justice Alliance has launched a new lived experience leadership programme and is recruiting a project manager with first-hand experience of the criminal justice system. For more click on the link here.