Not a shred of waste: City & Guilds gives textbooks to UK prisons

John Beck, Regional Business Manager, Northern England, Nations, Ireland & UK Prisons, gives an account of the decision to put surplus textbooks to good use, instead of destroying them.

10 May 2022

As City & Guilds progressively tries to evolve everyday processes toward greener, more sustainable practices, we’ve moved all our learning materials to massive online libraries. It’s an exciting development for us, not only from the perspective of protecting the environment, but it also means that our courses are more easily accessible by students and more cost effective. 

Our online library is SmartScreen. This is not a new platform for centres but it is now more complete than ever, and is used even more extensively by our customers. However, we found that as a result of the online move we were left with a warehouse of left-over printed textbooks. The initial idea was to have the material shredded and sent for recycling, but we had a hunch there was something better that we could do. Then the ideal opportunity presented itself: education within prisons. 

City & Guilds proudly supports the education of prisoners in the UK

So many of the UK’s prisoners are people who grew up with limited opportunities, fell into the wrong circles, had to contend with extreme circumstances, and ultimately made poor decisions. When prisoners are released back into society, having served their sentences, they’re faced with the challenge of re-integration and finding a way to make an honest living.

The odds are stacked against them, and we believed we could do more to help. And so, as my job title no doubt indicates (Regional Business Manager, Northern England, Nations, Ireland & UK Prisons), City & Guilds is already involved in various initiatives that make vocational training and education available to those impacted by the justice system. 

We achieve this in partnership with four committed education providers, who deliver vocational training to people serving sentences at 110 prisons in the England & Wales. I must take a moment to applaud these education providers for the admirable work they do:

  • Weston College
  • Milton Keynes College
  • People Plus
  • Novus

Suddenly, we’re not ‘stuck with’ 15,000 textbooks

When Covid hit we were generously stocked with 15,000 high-quality textbooks. These are now able to change the lives of thousands of ex-offenders. Men and women who have the desire and drive to obtain a recognised qualification, to pursue well-paying careers. What a shift in perspective! 

Sharing our enthusiasm, City & Guilds’ exemplary education providers have jumped at the opportunity and are already busying themselves coordinating the logistics of setting up libraries of learning materials at a selection of handpicked prisons. We anticipate that these libraries will enhance the learning experience for thousands of prisoners.

HMP Northumberland image

Kevin Wilkinson, Business Development Manager – Justice and Communities, presents a selection of City & Guilds textbooks to prison education provider, Novus, to be used at HMP Northumberland

The textbooks being donated are varied and will provide vocational training in multiple subjects, including hair and beauty, construction, plumbing, engineering, digital and IT, and many others. Aside from the immeasurable impact that prison-based education has on each ex-offender’s life, their family’s lives, and their immediate society, we also have to acknowledge just how beneficial it is for the UK as whole – to have qualified workers entering industries that are sorely lacking in skills, such as rail and construction. 

The many faces of sustainability

Learning not to waste has been one of humankind’s biggest lessons in sustainability. In the same way that we set out to no longer waste earth’s natural resources on printed materials, we’re also committed to ensuring that not a single opportunity to provide education to a willing learner is wasted – no matter where they are.

To find out more about this initiative, or other opportunities to be involved, please contact me, at