National Grid sparks offenders’ creativity

Thousands of struggling writers dream of this. After months of swigging endless cups of coffee, tapping away ferociously on your computer while precariously bouncing a small child on your lap – your first book hits the virtual shelves of Amazon and becomes an overnight sensation.

Thankfully, Helen Mahy, general counsel at National Grid, did not have to give up her day job or endure hundreds of knockbacks from publishers to follow in JK Rowling’s footsteps.

The accomplished 50-year-old barrister originally wrote her series of children books, The Adventures of Basil the Spaniel – based on the real-life adventures of her black-and-white springer spaniel – to read to her husband’s grandchildren. But she was soon persuaded by National Grid chairman Sir John Parker to have the gas and electricity company publish them.

Young offenders from five ­prisons that work closely with National Grid’s Young Offender Programme were then given the chance to illustrate the stories. Basil even has
his own website,

Chaired by Sir John, the ­programme offers training and sustainable work opportunities to young criminals in 22 prisons across the country and involves more than 80 companies.

“The programme works with young prisoners in the latter stage of their sentence and offers ­sustainable employment on ­completion of industry training,” explains Mahy. “The reoffending rate for those completing the ­programme is less than 7 per cent compared with the national ­average of more than 70 per cent. The programme has been adopted by 80-plus companies and ­operates in more than 20 prisons.

“We’ve worked with various prisons and offenders to produce the drawings, which are all of a high quality.”

The books, which are aimed at readers aged “three to 93”, are distributed to the prison and young offender institutions linked to the Young Offender Programme to be used as part of their literacy efforts.

And the project does not end there. All profits from the sale of the stories, of which there are 12 in total, go to Special Olympics GB, a year-round sports and competition programme for children and adults with learning disabilities. The charity, which National Grid has been supporting since 2007, does not have any government funding and relies on corporate and individual donations.

“National Grid is the premier partner of Special Olympics GB,” says Mahy. “Over the past four years, hundreds of National Grid employees have volunteered in a range of roles – from coaches to mentors and fundraisers. We’ve also taken on athletes on work experience and we have one ­athlete employed in our Wolverhampton office. It’s a great ­partnership that really engages the employees who get involved.”

Although she says she is at her happiest when writing stories, coaching, meditating and being with her husband and dog, Mahy clearly relishes being kept busy.

“This week I am speaking at Delta, our women’s network in Hinckley and preparing my keynote speech on inclusive ­leadership for Opportunity Now’s conference in a couple of weeks. I’m also coaching a few people – I’m an accredited coach inside and outside of National Grid,” she says.

“Other than that, I’m attending meetings in Scotland, where I’m a non-executive director of Stagecoach, and preparing to interview those tendering for the design of our 2012 annual report. In ­addition, I’m getting ready for our September board and committees meetings on top of dealing with the legal issues which arise every day. Next week I’ll be in the US – I travel there at least once a month.”

It’s a workload enough to make even the waggiest of tails sag.