Khulisa hosts ‘Look Beyond the Label’ at the Mercers’ Hall

On the 8th of November 2017, the Khulisa team had the pleasure of hosting our largest ever event, ‘Look Beyond the Label’ at the Mercers’ Hall.

Thanks to our event sponsors (The Worshipful Company of Vintners and JLT) as well as the Mercers’ Company who so generously provided their beautiful venue to us, we were able to bring together more than 120 of our participants, sector peers, supporters and policy makers.  Guests were welcomed by our award-winning host for the evening, CJ Burge and our three keynote speakers Rt. Hon. Norman Lamb MP, Dr Kamel Hothi OBE and author and criminologist, Tom Gash, who led the guests through a thought-provoking evening which aimed to challenge misconceptions about how and why people become involved in crime.

Guests told us they thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet our participants and hear from our key note speakers who underlined the importance of looking beyond labels, to see the person and not the criminal and to truly understand the causes of crime in order that we may prevent it and break its cycle.

"What an absolute triumph of an evening, Congratulations to the whole Khulisa team for arranging such a wonderful, informative and often humbling few hours. I look forward to hopefully being a part of the Khulisa future and am so grateful to all of you for the gift of the skills I gained during the Face It programme." - Debbie Brown, a Khulisa Participant who took part in our Face It Programme at Caritas Anchor House

The evening began with a networking reception during which our guests had the opportunity to (re)connect, discuss their responses to a pre-posed question and listen to the stories of our participants at listening pods stationed around the hall. This was then followed by a short extract from Barred – a play written and performed by Dean Stalham, himself an ex-offender, about the realities of life in prison.

Our host CJ Burge then formally opened the dinner portion of the evening by sharing with the audience her moving story of redemption through education and the rehabilitation opportunities she received while in prison. CJ, who is now in the last year of the law degree she began studying in prison & the SOS + programme coordinator at the St Giles Trust, declared her support for Khulisa’s call for the adoption of a more nurturing, more human approach to how we treat people who have committed crime or people who have been excluded in some other way.

CJ Burge
Leslie Bentley and Khulisa's Sonia Johnson

CJ then introduced the remarkable, Leslie Bentley, who Khulisa began working with in early 2017 through our ‘Silence the Violence’  programme while he was at HMP Forest Bank. Now, released and in the community, Khulisa continues to provide practical and well-being support to support Leslie as he reintegrates into society. On the evening, Leslie shared his story with the audience and imparted some useful advice on how we can, as a society, better treat prisoners:

“I’d like to tell [decision makers] to – focus more on rehabilitation. Having spent over 8 years in prison I have learned that my greatest need was to be seen as a human being – rehabilitation matters and is powerful when a prisoner walks out of the gate and is fully equipped with the skills to manage life’s challenges. Prisoners require opportunities that are meaningful not tokenistic. Access to mental health care including talking services and prescribing within prison, that mirrors the community is important because this can lead to reducing offending.  If prisons fully acknowledge that a persons thoughts, emotions and feelings affect behaviour and the choices they make they can begin to look at the bigger picture for a person they are responsible for, the whole person not just their offending. Education and life skills opportunities that are accredited and recognised in the community and by employers are also essential so that prisoners leaving custody are equipped with the ability to make positive changes, increase their self esteem and feel better about their future.” – Leslie Bentley

Rt. Hon. Norman Lamb MP with our CEO Dominique Airey
Tom Gash

We then had the pleasure of welcoming the Rt. Hon. Norman Lamb MP to the stage to explore a few ways in which we could radically reduce prison numbers. Sharing Khulisa’s approach to addressing the underlying causes of offending rather than the symptoms,  Norman Lamb, a long-time advocate for better mental health provision argued that one place to start would be to eradicate the imprisonment of people who are imprisoned because of their mental health.

Keeping with our theme of responding with compassion, not punishment, our second key-note speaker, and author of “Criminal: The Truth About Why People Do Bad Things,”  Tom Gash called the audience to change the way we think about ‘criminals’ deconstructing myths that prevent us from really and truly understand the causes and ways of preventing
of crime.


Dr Kamel Hothi

The evening was then closed by Dr Kamel Hothi and our Chairman Mat Ilic.  Dr Hothi, welcomed the private sector to think about what they could and should be doing to support the most socially isolated members of our society who are vulnerable to engaging in criminal behaviour. Introducing  opportunities to mentor young people and inter-generational and cross-sector community initiatives, Dr Hothi asked representatives of corporate organisations, “will you shut the door or will you go back and challenge your organisations? How can you change the society we live in?”

Khulisa thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to challenge views, inspire hope and rally support for our work which advocates us seeing the person and not the criminal, focusing on the causes and not the crime, responding with compassion and with a sense of urgency.

John Battersby, Director of the South African Chamber of Commerce UK, best described the evening as:

" A very rich evening in terms of content and the messages were skilfully developed to make for a potent and irrefutable overall narrative. Each speaker amplified the central theme and the only question we left with was: why can't such a body of like-minded opinion move the mainstream in the right direction."

If after attending the event, or after reading this article, you would like to  support and engage with the Khulisa community, please consider:


  • Making a donation to Khulisa, through our Charity Checkout page
  • Introducing us to a potential donor or advocate
  • Joining us on a programme visit
  • Sharing your skills by volunteering with us
  • Setting up a Khulisa taster session in your workplace, like Barclays did, (see here)
  • Signing up to receive our monthly newsletter


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