Published: 06:00, 24 January 2021
| Updated: 09:07, 24 January 2021
A Kent optician has devoted his career to transforming the lives of offenders by giving them the skills needed for a successful career in optics.
Tanjit Dosanjh founded The Prison Optician Trust, an organisation which teaches offenders from Standford Hill on the Isle of Sheppey and East Sutton Park in Maidstone how to make spectacles at a training centre in Earl Street.
It works by offering vocational courses to prisoners while they are serving time so they have the skills needed to find work when they are released.
It all started in 2003, when Mr Dosanjh's father was jailed for 14 years after committing a serious crime.
After seeing how difficult it was for people in his father's situation to access decent training and combat reoffending, he knew he wanted to find a way to change this.
The 38-year-old said: "I first came up with the idea in 2010 after seeing something similar in California where the prisoners made spectacles for state health insurance companies.
"It was so successful and I knew I wanted to try and bring something like this to the UK."
Determined to get the idea off the ground, he self-funded an optical laboratory in Standford Hill prison and gave up two days a week of his time to train a group of prisoners.
The pilot project became known as Liberty Needs Glasses and by the end of 2014, he began applying to independent grant makers for funding.
By 2015, Mr Dosanjh had secured start-up funding to finance the training centre in Maidstone town centre from the Sainsbury's Family charitable trust, the Monument Trust, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Triangle Trust.
Now with 10 years of experience, the trust has helped more than 60 offenders find work, 45 of whom moved into paid positions in optometry.
It has been so successful Mr Dosanjh was even awarded an OBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours.
Mr Dosanjh said: "I managed to turn my dad's prison sentence into a positive outcome for our family history.
"But it's not just about that, I hope to continue raising awareness for the things we can do to tackle reoffending - training prisoners to make spectacles is just one way."
The trust works with the prison service to interview inmates who want to turn their lives around.
Those selected will undergo a 10 week training programme at the centre in Maidstone learning about ocular anatomy, prescriptions, lenses and how to properly fit glasses.
They will then sit an exam to obtain their certificate in Optical Customer Service.
Mr Dosanjh who lives in Sidcup said: "It's extremely rewarding. Not everybody has worked out, some people are prone to a path of reoffending but for those we have helped, it has been life changing.
"I get great joy out of knowing a person is going to be on the straight and narrow and will now have a better relationship with their kids and their family."
Mr Dosanjh grew up in Rochester and went to Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School before going to university.
He hopes his work can help change the lives of people who have not been as fortunate to access the same education he has.
He said: "I truly believe where we are born plays a huge part in the paths we lead in life.
"A lot of my trainees are bright young people but they are surrounded by gang culture, and getting a decent education is not that easy in some inner cities.
"When I meet these people I don't know them from Adam but telling them that I care and that I want to help them makes a huge difference."
"I hope I can keep doing this until I retire."
One person whose life has changed thanks to the programme is Bradley Miller who spent his teenage years tangled up in crime.
After securing a place on the programme, the father-of-two was offered a job in Specsavers.
Mr Miller said: "I had been to prison before. My most recent offence saw me imprisoned for a much longer sentence and it was then that I knew things had to change.
"I came to The Prison Opticians Trust after hearing about it from another inmate. I applied and attended an interview where I was open and honest about my offences and my past.
"I felt I was not judged and I was lucky enough to be offered a place on the training course.
"This experience has shown me that I can do things I never thought possible and I want to make my children proud."
The hope for Mr Dosanjh, is to one day be able to set up another training centre, only this time inside a prison, which if successful can be replicated across the country.