Employment

A Year In – New Challenges and Partners for SHE Project

SHE and INCAS Projects celebrate their first birthdays on Tuesday and what a year we have had.

Excellent working partnerships have been brought together. Lancashire County Council, Burnley Borough Council, Lancashire Constabulary,Timpsons, (kept them onside just in case it all went wrong and I needed to apply for a job) NPS and East Lancashire/Cumbria CRC and Sodexho Justice Services. Grants were secured from NHS Health & Justice Team, Allen Lane Foundation & BRIC funding so people had what many of us take for granted, a laptop with access to the Internet.  Our hosts at BPRCVS welcomed us warmly and SHE along with INCAS are becoming embedded into the fabric of the community.

Fellowship Award

Me? What I have been up to? I submitted a grant proposal to The Griffins Society for a fellowship for 2015/16. This year, The Griffins Society have joined forces with The Lankelly Chase Foundation and the University of Cambridge to offer a fantastic opportunity to research my passion. Removing barriers for women and girls coming from custody. With support from the team at SHE/INCAS, I was successful in my application and I commence the research in September 2015.

New Partnerships – Voices and People of the Future

In August, Riley & I were invited to join the North West The NCS Challenge. This fantastic programme brings 15-17 year olds from different backgrounds to meet new people, work with organisations and campaign on issues affecting young people. A lively discussion at Burnley College and The Ace Centre in Nelson was had as our work was discussed. These groups throughout September are joining SHE/INCAS to work on arts, humanities, media and business. The creative little bunch they are will also map out their futures on our blank wall in our IT suite with their own fair, dextrous hands.

Borne from the above, NCS Challenge NW, asked us, to join them in their campaigns. One is NHS – V – NPS  (legal highs) and the second is WWilling2Change. Hashtag #igethighby is for the legal highs campaign. Willing2Change is targeting youth offenders as an early action campaign to support this challenged and challenging group not to face the adult prison estate. With our current partners, we aim to support these vibrant young people to be our voices of the future.

The beauty and benefits of the above is we have raised an interest in the challenges of the Criminal Justice System, the barriers faced by those who have convictions and how hard life can be once released from prison. These young people are highly engaged in our work as we are theirs. The voices and people of our future.

Furthermore, tomorrow, I get to sit on a Dragon’s Den Panel as these young people pitch for funds to campaign. I am very excited about this.

The Future? 

What a great end to our first year as a vibrant and lively project. We have helped 40 men & women into stable accommodation and with that came it’s own challenges, but we did it. As we ease into our second year, new ideas, new partnerships, new voices and a raft of journeys from those we support. Our members.

Happy Birthday SHE and INCAS. 🎂🎁🎇🎆

Coaching Behind Bars….. By Clare McGregor

Working in the community with women who have been in custody is challenging yet rewarding work. However, what goes on behind the scenes through a different set of eyes is narrated by Clare McGregor in this sparkling, entertaining (perfect for cross country train journeys where every stop feels like counting milestones on foot) book.

Clare McGregor is the brains behind Coaching Inside & Out initiative. Having come across Clare two years ago whilst serving my sentence, I have followed her on that social media place where folks sing like canaries.

My utter delight when coming across Clare’s book involved a little dance around my office chanting “Now she’s gone and written a book” and I totally understand why. Women from HMP Styal are referred into SHE as the resettlement prison for the North West. I have a natural affinity with Styal due to SHE’s women and listening as we do “on the other side”  A few clicks later, I had ordered the book and it came in a couple of days.

As I do with all our books, I immediately write in the front: “Office Copy – Not To Be Removed”  I waved it around lots telling and threatening removal of sugars in coffee should it be missing from our book shelf. (I took it home, so don’t tell anyone okay?)

On Monday, I travelled to Cambridge. What a bastard of a journey. I had some documents to read, some writing to do, alas Cross Country Trains aren’t so generous with the internet speed – emails get sent if one is lucky.

I peered in my book and there it was. I had my train coffee (or what passes for coffee) and as I was on page 18 from a mosey through the first few pages on arrival, I was happy to get stuck in.

Coaching – How very American and for the rich only…. But no wealth or status has the cornerstone on being coached. Why not coach women who are in the vice-like grip of the prison estate? Women who have been through crisis that could make even the hardiest of persons wither. Clare with her 20-year background in service creation has blended women which society forget with her two-decade experience into this fabulous page-turner.

I don’t coach our women – I plainly support them in accommodation – nag them about the dentist, the doctor, help them with bank accounts, listen when they are pissed off with their Probation Officer and talk about gaining employment. But, Clare’s book has highlighted in beautiful words, the power of these women responding to coaching. The words of Clare resonate in my work – SHE women shout – Prisons are noisy places and to be heard, these women need to shout – I hear myself saying on our corridor when other organisations say “Tracey’s lot are noisy” Yes they are – I think you would be, locked up with a few hundred other women. Still, social boundaries are one area that coaching helps with. Clare’s book describes women imagining themselves on sunny beaches, eating ice-cream and watching the waves crash. The chapter “Problems” describes what I hear from SHE women on release – fear of coming home, family disowning them, seeing their children and the worry of gaining employment. Clare describes indepth, how these women are supported in navigating the quagmire of life on the inside and the outside through coaching.

This is truly a beautiful read and had me laughing and crying, but in such an uplifting way. I could relate to all the women’s narratives and I hear them daily from SHE Women. Of course, our women want to read it and I might have to learn to trust my book will be returned for others to read.

A superb read and comes highly recommended for anyone who has a curiosity about women in prison and an excellent insight for organisations who work with women in the community following a custodial sentence.

 

Clare Mc

Clare’s book can be purchased here

East Lancashire Moves Towards Recognising Importance of Housing in Rehabilitation

LogoColorTextRight SHE Project is keeping me busy. Back in February, I attended a Through The Gate conference to discuss housing for released prisoners. I was pleased to hear the importance of housing in resettlement plans. While funding is a thorny topic, housing affects society over a much wider scope. Or shall we say, lack of housing.

SHE is slowing building housing stock. Acommodation is awarded following a referral process. The Project offers furnished homes in the community on a shared basis. All residents are risk-assessed and are offered stable accommodation in homes to begin journeys to brighter futures.

Alongside accommodation, SHE offers a range of support services such as registration with a local GP, setting up of bank accounts, house meetings, a repairs procedure, benefit application assistance & free use of telephone line to call agencies. Working closely with local authority Housing Needs & the Community Safety Partnership, the Project reports into these local authority departments with regular updates and capacity reports. Burnley Borough Council have welcomed the service and along with other agencies, small steps are being made.

SHE also offers work-based schemes. SHE residents are welcomed by the community. With the support of Burnley, Pendle & Rossendale Council for Voluntary Services who offer community-based courses, treatment services for stress-related conditions, SHE women have support on tap.

Of course, we are dealing with people. And with people come issues. These are addressed with the fabulous team who key-work with our residents.

Working with INCAS, SHE is now tapping into empty homes. Burnley, for example has a large number of empty homes that are boarded up. SHE/INCAS are looking at building their own maintenance team to bring these houses back into community use.

On offer to residents, as part of their care plan is volunteering to paint empty homes. This in-house pilot is to explore creating jobs to work within the project. Building and renovating a house to create a home is exciting and further development in this area is in place.

In the research and development of this project following my experiences of homelessness post-sentence, a home was the hardest area to acquire. SHE & INCAS have worked hard to tidy up the pathway into homes. We have referral pathways and developing partnerships with Lancashire Constabulary, HMPS, Lancashire County Council & Burnley Borough Council.

Accommodation on release has been an area that has been largely ignored throughout many parts of the country. It is not easy to get a home for most of society, add convictions, sofa surfing becomes the default setting. SHE & INCAS have made baby steps in removing the barriers. In East Lancashire, slowly, this area is opening up.

There is a lot of talk on housing and while SHE/INCAS do not have all the answers, our results show that stable accommodation in the community does work. My time in a hostel motivated me to work on the female model after drying myself on a bath mat as I was not given towels. We gather donations from people in the form of toiletries, the project provides bedding, towels, sanitary items to mention a few items that make all the difference. Local TV aerial fitters are working with us to supply our properties so our residents have an environment resembling what most people take for granted.

It is almost two years since my ideas were written on a tatty notepad from a canal bank, but the best part is, the support of our local community, the BPRCVS, Police, CSP and East Lancs CRC.

Housing for those released from prison is a thorny topic along with being a migraine for those coming through the gate & other supporting agencies. And rather than it be banged at the doors of Westminster constantly, a small group of community members can and do make a difference.

SHE (Support & Housing East Lancashire)

About-Us

SHE has officially opened her doors.

After a year of research and evaluation from many people, I did it.

The answer is in the community and the community of Burnley, Lancashire, has welcomed SHE.

We offer a 12-month support programme. SHE offers a range of arts & crafts projects, empowerment and the opportunity to help the team develop the project so it becomes a hub for women in Burnley.

We have formed strong links with Inspire in Burnley for drug and alcohol support. We have training courses for self-employment and those great people at Timpson, will guide on employment, interviews and preparation for work.

The SHE project has a great team at the helm. Professional women trained in social work, a former Police Officer and a former Refuge support worker of nine years. A steering panel will guide delivery and meet once a month to ensure delivery is working.

Our accommodation is now ready and we can house three women from today. The team have worked on the female model for housing. This was important to me. A woman has to have safe, stable accommodation. My time in a hostel as a😰😐 middle-aged woman showed me the lack of support for homeless women and I know this to be a national problem. I was placed in a dirty room, no towels, no food, no kettle. It was grim and while I have nothing against young men, sharing a bathroom with a man half my age was not ideal.  However, all is not lost. This experience showed me how not to offer accommodation for women. Our house is warm welcoming, safe and has everything I did not when I was placed in that room for three nights last year. 

The team pounded the streets with letters to local retailers and communities. My garage was full of donations from kind people with all those lovely pieces that make a house a home. The great guys at RDA Burnley, donated a brand new end-of-season sofa for our cute little sitting room.  The kindness of people in a town whose people do not have much themselves, is immense. It is true, those who have very little give so much and truly would give you the clothes they were standing up in. *Take note Westminister*

Our accommodation is supported living. We will help you through all that nasty paperwork, there is no hefty deposit to find, we will be with you when you need help through the minefield of benefit applications and we will ensure you are secure and are there if you need us. Weekly house meetings will be held and you will be supported as much or as little as you need. This is your new beginning. We are your stepping stone to move you forward to a brighter future. Subject to risk assessment, three women of no fixed abode can now move forward with stable accommodation to begin their baby steps.

We have a second property which will be ready in the next couple of months. 

Our office address is on the home page. Our office telephone number will be updated today.

We are grateful to Carol, Irene, Carly and all the people at BRPCVS for the warm welcome we have received in our new office.

There are many people I would like to thank for their help and support over the last year. Lyndon Harris & Dan Bunting who have worked behind the scenes in guiding me. Diana Rose, editor of Criminal Law & Justice Weekly, Rita Pal, Natasha Phillips, James Timpson, Raymond Lunn for his excellent insight into the CJS, Flo Kraus for guidance and correcting my words, Kim Cano for introducing me to the US penal system by relaying her family’s experience with her book, On The Inside (and our project One in, One Out) Anita Bellows for always supporting my shouty blogs, Mark Fletton for his insight into the CJS, JP Riley, (who can forget his unique insight into Chris Grayling?). Most of all, the professional women who have given their time to deliver SHE with years of experience to offer. Kayla Barker, Max Scott, Elizabeth Barnes, Sam Fisher, Julie Hensby & Bradley Hensby.

We have an open evening on 16th October from 6pm onwards, tickets are free. We hope you will come and join us.

Welcome to SHE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah or Neah – “Ex-Offender”

ImageWhat do we think? Should the label “ex-offender” be used? I have been involved in this debate for nearly three years and suggestions from many have cropped up. It’s such a crap term. Ex-offender. I am not one, this I know.  I employ myself and I don’t need to screen myself. I work remotely and the only person who is offended by me is the dog when I haven’t given him his daily milk.

If and when I am in a position to offer employment rather than outsourcing work, I am under no obligation to ask the “have you ever” question… I have no wish as an employer to know the ins and outs of a person’s detailed history. I will have two requirements – can you do the job?  and are you likely to swear at my clients?  I don’t do “blue sky thinking” or “drilling down” and I am never in “agreement” (the word is “agree” and drill down should never be used as a way of getting to the bottom of anything – I’ve known people be sued for coming out with much less than let’s drill down the issue. Corporate bullshite is not my bag and we are not rats in a race.

One rather inspiring gentleman, a poet, goes by the name of Stephen Duncan, informed me weeks ago he was going to use, Future law abider… Those who have never had a conviction, do not go around calling themselves law-abiding citizens, (apart from the comments’ section on the Daily Mail when all that shuddering outrage is pouring out when yet another crime is reported. Oh then we hear about all those “law-abiding” citizens)

I cringe when I see ” Give ex-offenders a second chance” What a poxy, dreadful statement if not a teensy bit patronizing… Should the term be dropped? I think so.

Thoughts are welcome…