Clare McGregor is a social entrepreneur and consultant who has spent 25 years trying to reduce inequality, social exclusion and crime. She founded the charity Coaching Inside and Out (CIAO) with Common Purpose alumnae and others in 2010 and is on the Common Purpose Manchester and North West Advisory Group.

I got stuck in prison and started a coaching charity thanks to Common Purpose. The Meridian leadership programme uses cities as its classroom and I’d met the governor while shadowing a fellow participant running a maximum security jail. This experience and many connections it sparked throughout my life led to the creation of Coaching Inside and Out.

The Common Purpose Experience

At 29 I was privileged to be on the 2001 Common Purpose Matrix programme (now called Meridian), which helped me realize we all have far more power to change our world than we realise. The insights, cross-sector links and the belief course colleagues had led me to set up my own social justice consultancy improving services for those in crisis. Common Purpose stoked my anger at the inequality all around us, as well as showing just how lucky we all are not to be in prison ourselves. Fortunately it also put me in touch with many inspirational people who felt the same. A friend I met on it then persuaded me to train as a coach - to be someone who could help others make better decisions simply by asking questions, rather than giving advice.  

Over the years, and after many inspiring conversations at Common Purpose events, I saw how those never normally offered coaching can have the most to gain and it could help people in prison unlock their potential for the benefit of us all. When I asked my networks: “Who’s up for a challenge?” twelve others joined me, including the Common Purpose alumna who introduced me to coaching in the first place and a fellow Advisory Group member who became the charity’s Chair.

Coaching Inside and Out

The charity wants everyone convicted of offences, or at risk of offending, to be offered life coaching so they can help themselves and others. We may have been the first organisation to do this, but we don’t want a monopoly, we want change. So CIAO supports and encourages people across the world to coach too.

Coaches work as equals, as we would with you, asking: “Who are you? What do you want to change? How are you holding yourself back?” Crucially, we give no advice whatsoever: this is your life. We use techniques adopted by business leaders to help people who’ve often suffered unthinkable pain, as well as some inflicting it, to realise their strengths and challenge their assumptions.

Shuffling the pack

Goals was one of our very first male client in the community. He’d been released from prison, had alcohol problems and said he’d never had any meaningful use of time in 29 years. He’d given up hope and couldn’t see how he could change anything, so we went straight in at the deep end exploring his values and strengths. The speed with which he transformed his life using the resources already within him shocked us both. We even had to stop coaching early because he got a job. As he put it:

”People do things because of the hand they were dealt: who they're around, who they mix with and how they were brought up. Now I'm putting my cards back in the pack and giving them a good shuffle.”

Where now? Where next?

Stories of comedy, tragedy and hope from nearly 1,000 prisoners and others we’ve coached in our communities mean we’re often asked about innovation in unlikely places (hence the book Coaching Behind Bars, which reached the top of Amazon’s ‘Punishment’ section). Now we’re curious: Who else uses coaching to unlock potential in people who face significant inequalities or are socially excluded for any reason? Searches showed no other organisations coaching in prisons when we began, but there must be many who can link up internationally now. Perhaps it’s time we all got stuck in?


You can connect with Clare through:
Phone: 07903 502 455
Twitter: @Clare_McGregor