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Helping young people in prison to discover their purpose, Vicki Cardwell

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Introducing Vicki Cardwell, the CEO of Spark Inside, an award-winning charity that delivers coaching in UK prisons.

Vicki brings her strong belief in coaching and mentoring, as well as her personal and professional journey, to her role of empowering young people in the criminal justice system.

Since its establishment in 2012, Spark Inside has been dedicated to inspiring young people to unlock their full potential and discover their life's purpose. Over the course of 11 years, the charity has worked with 1,500 young people in prison, earning a reputation for its human-centered and innovative approach.

Vicki joined the organization in January 2020, just before the global pandemic hit. It was a challenging time as Spark Inside faced restrictions and was unable to deliver their in-person mentoring program. Vicki had to rethink the organisation's approach and pivot their services to continue helping young people in the best way possible.

Stepping into her first CEO role, Vicki was delighted to take the reins from founder Baillie Aarons. Baillie, a serial social entrepreneur, previously founded the US non-profit Venturing Out, providing entrepreneurship education to people in prison before relocating from Canada to London in 2015.

Baillie recognised that many individuals in prison faced barriers to living a crime-free future, despite their motivation to change once they connected with their passion, or what she calls their "spark inside." She aimed to create a program that would provide these young people with a purpose to strive for upon release, offering a more appealing alternative to a return to crime.

Through her immersion in the coaching world, Baillie met a passionate life coach who designed what is now Spark Inside's award-winning intervention, Hero's Journey™ – a structured life coaching program for 15-to-25-year-olds in prison. Hero's Journey™ aims to enhance young people's motivation to transform their lives, ultimately reducing reoffending, making society safer, and preventing future victims of crime.

Spark Inside's Hero's Journey™ coaching program consists of three weekly two-hour group workshops, followed by the option of eight one-to-one coaching sessions, providing participants with valuable support.

Vicki brings significant leadership experience to her role, having worked in the criminal justice sector for over a decade. Prior to joining Spark Inside, she served as Deputy Chief Executive of the Revolving Doors Agency, leading a high-profile campaign to reduce short prison sentences, which gained Ministerial backing and shifted the national media discourse. During her tenure, Vicki's leadership of Revolving Doors' policy and research teams contributed to doubling the charity's income within five years.

She also made an impact at the UK charity Catch22, where she helped launch the groundbreaking Transition to Adulthood Alliance. As Chief Executive of the Criminal Justice Alliance, Vicki successfully secured the inclusion of "restorative justice" in legislation, furthering the organisation's mission.

Vicki's extensive experience and commitment to the criminal justice sector make her a valuable asset to Spark Inside as they continue their important work of empowering young people in prison and creating positive change in society.


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