SHE Project

When One Gate Closes, Another Six Open…

SHE Project has survived against many odds. SHE’s belief is that no woman should leave prison without a roof over her head. A recent media spin that HMP Bronzefield issued sleeping bags & tents to women peppered my inbox with *Have you seen the news?* subject lines.

It’s been three years since I was street homeless. Three years since I lived on my mother’s sofa following my travails through the CJS.  Since then, I started SHE Project, stood my ground against bigger & much better housing elements than I could ever aspire to. SHE started with a small funding grant from Allen Lane Foundation.

I’ll not forget the day SHE opened her tiny little office at BPRCVS in Burnley. There we were, with a raft of back office support I’d created whilst on licence.  SHE had five volunteers then and we were bemused.  We had an office. We had one house. A phone line. (No Internet,  this took three weeks) Me & our five volunteers looked at each other not knowing what to do.

“Let’s ring some people up’ I screeched.

This is what we did.

SHE Project opened at a time of uncertainty for The Probation Service.  Funding cuts screamed from pages of mainstream media. Within six weeks of SHE opening, my mother died. It was not going well for me as a woman launching a community project to support women  from prison.

Yet, SHE would never have survived this time without her team around her. Strength comes from within. Strength also comes from comforting arms in the form of those whom have struggled as organisations to survive.

SHE’S first annual report is due for publication in a couple of months. I’ve worked this bloody project for three years since I squatted on my mother’s sofa. I’ve watched volunteers come and bless them, go.

We’ve helped 52 women from prison incorporating their families.  We’ve taken part in research.  We’ve struggled to survive and been threatened with closure.

In 18 months, through our doors SHE has supported 339 convictions (including mine) had 22 properties, furnished them, bought 79 packets of tampons, 24 packets of panty liners, 28 tubes of toothpaste, 19 toothbrushes, (12 sets of towels donated through our lovely friends at Cohort4women) 39 duvets and well, had 66 keys cut (TY Timpson) 19 washing machines, 12 fridges, 6 tellies, 19 sets of cutlery.  That’s before support kicks in..

SHE has spent hours on telephone calls, reunited a mother from prison with her daughter from care. Shouted, screamed, argued and fought the corners of our lasses. All here in East Lancs.

As our fellow women in HMP Holloway are shipped out, to prisons hundreds of miles away from families & children,  SHE opens her first six self-contained flats in Greenwich London.

Women from Holloway serving sentences are now hundreds of miles away from family links, families are hundreds of miles away from women in their lives.

SHE is not delighted to be offering this service. SHE felt she had to do something to support women as we have done in the North.

But out of the ashes rises women. When the gates of Holloway close for the final time, SHE can do a tiny part in our big dirty capital to help and support six women.

SHE Project and Women in Prison, in the spirit of their founder, Chris Tchaikovsky, ensure that women do deserve a home on release and do deserve to at least have a foot in the trenches to dig up.

SHE Project Greenwich opens in June 2016.

 

 

Women Coming from Prison – Challenging Support Frameworks

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Over the last few weeks, I have been working with CRI following a successful tender bid to Lancashire County Council for recovery services in East Lancashire. Consisting of a brand new model, with a raft of local organisations involved, this is a radical and bold model to support people throughout East Lancashire in all areas of their life. SHE and INCAS are proud to be part of this consortium and for a little organisation that has struggled to survive, we are able to move forward under this localised model that centres around families, housing, clinical, education and training needs of people.

The North West has rolled out early adoption schemes – the first in which SHE & INCAS ran under, was the North West Recovery Housing – Through the Gate scheme called Gateways. Under this, SHE and her bigger brother, INCAS, accommodated men and women coming through the gate into safe and affordable housing. Fifteen providers of different models of accommodation were part of the scheme. Gateways was our first outing as a local provider of services and it was an interesting scheme.

For me, Gateways, although now ceased, left a legacy, if not a gap. That legacy taught me as a practitioner, working with one of the most overlooked group of people in prison, women in prison, how to manage being a part of a founding member of a consortium providing vital services. SHE Project has been a part of my DNA since I was homeless, serving a prison sentence in the community. (Yes, you hang em and flog em crowd, a suspended sentence carries as much as weight as a custodial sentence)  I live and breathe the Project and still, nearly two years since SHE opened her doors, SHE runs through my blood like fat through streaky bacon. I have fought, battled and continue to do so. Largely against many odds and barriers.

SHE Project does not fit into any group of services. SHE has been the leaf blowing around on a blustery night. LA loved her, then they wondered about her, then oddly, they disliked her. But SHE has kept going. Looking back, I am not sure how SHE has survived.

But SHE has.

Why has she? Because SHE is right down and dirty with understanding the local socio-economic dynamics of her geographical area. Add to that, a vital understanding of the needs of women emerging from behind the walls too high to see over.

There is a need for local services. There is little room for a blanket approach on what women need coming from prison. It isn’t enough to be rolling out services from the halls of Parliament or academics who have studied women’s needs. It isn’t enough to tell women what they need – it’s local services where women can feel safe to say “This is what I need, can you help me?”

If we were to break down to each local or district authority, a map of services, there would be a very different graph and demographic image of needs in areas.  What works in the Home Counties, will not work in Cumbria. Models that do work, are not area-specific. It is simply they are fantastic models that work.

Properly resourced and funded local services that meet the needs of their local communities will welcome home women and men coming back to their communities from prison. I cannot bang this drum enough. The moment a woman leaves prison is the moment she belongs in the community she wishes to live in. It is vital she has services to turn to.  Just as any member of the community is able to.

It is time for funding to cease being the bidding pool it has become. It is time for commissioners and grant-givers to ensure local services are fully resourced and able to survive. Let local services care for their own. It’s time.

 

 

 

 

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. 🎂🎁🎇🎆