Burnley

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. 🎂🎁🎇🎆

Social Impact of Women Returning to Their Community

Since the launch of SHE in September 2014, one of the areas I am interested in is how the community accepts women back into the community following a custodial sentence.

While I appreciate there is a place in society for a women’ prison estate, I am still of the mind too many women are being locked up for offences that could be managed in the community.

Taking nothing away from men, when a woman is sentenced to custody, the social impact is vast. Research has given me a wider scope of how much support there is in the community and it is hard to argue there is not. However, the bigger picture is missed.

Why? 

The women referred to SHE have mostly come from custody & have been in the community for some weeks. If no licence is in place, these women are on probation and are hooked into various agencies voluntarily. Those who are with local substance support services are bound by a prescription for Methadone & work with groups to move forward from substance misuse. SHE is not involved in this area, it is not our remit. Community support within their accommodation is. It is the area of accommodation, that is most overlooked.

To answer the sub-heading, ‘why?’  I am still amazed at how little emphasis is placed on stabilising accommodation. A lack of housing/accommodation is a social problem, not a criminal offence. During my travails, the lack of housing was my immediate need. This affected my whole being in not having access to hot water, cooking facilities, access to a GP, a bank account. This is a social impact and I was not even on the grid of society.  This is apparent in other agencies who view SHE as a competitor for localised services.

Yet, SHE as a tiny support service recognises the social impact of a woman returning to the community. This is a social impact we at SHE handle with a nuturing approach. The majority of our lasses have family, children & some have elderly parents they care for. Family support is proven to lessen the chance of reoffending. Education is vital, but none so vital as a woman returning to her family. Cramming a woman’s day with appointments prior to securing safe & stable accommodation is futile. It is pleasing to my ears the powers in East Lancashire are recognising this. When I opened the doors of SHE, I was truly up against other services. It has taken eight months to dig the trenches from the community and sustain a service that is so badly needed.

The Benefits? 

The benefits of offering shared accommodation to women enable a natural transition to other support networks. An address opens up pathways for other support to activate. An address ensures the services of a GP, bank accounts, reduces community crime & swifter access to all areas any citizen is entitled to.

But it does not come cheap. SHE does not take deposits, we do not charge outside the housing benefit cap, we have looked at the simple need that was being overlooked. Safe & secure accommodation for women returning to their community.

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) 

It is as simple as ABC…. When any woman has served her time, do we as a society have a duty to ensure her return to the community is not blocked by red tape & mindless bureaucracy?

Do communities not fair better when pathways are opened up in order for a woman to settle back home & become a neighbour, friend, family member & where children are involved, a mother? Children deserve this more than any Payment by Results box-ticking exercise.

In communities that are challenged daily with crime, high rates of unemployment, is it not beneficial to clear blocked pathways & make way for social inclusion for women returning to their communities?

Because, if we do not, & do what we always did, we will certainly get what we always got.

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.