Community

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.

 

 

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. 🎂🎁🎇🎆

The Day of Coming Home

Nine months on from opening the doors of SHE, changes within the project are evident to me.  Changes have occured with me questioning how & when they happened.

That said, one of the areas that remains unchanged is the day of coming home. Back in September, the day of coming home was chaotic for us and for our lasses. I put this down to us being new and finding our feet. Now, we are much more prepared and services on gate pick up work with us and are addressing the importance of accommodation on this overwhelming day for women moving into accommodation.

SHE accepts referrals from Police, Probation, CRC and the day of arrival for the short-term releases are crammed with appointments.

This day features highly for me. Our lasses are picked up, brought home, a raft of appointments and moving into a home happens on this day. Once a month, I release a bed capacity sheet to our local Community Safety Partnership (CSP) which in turn informs services of beds & addresses. Services refer into available bed spaces and our office prepare, complete our paperwork and SHE takes the wheel of addressing accommodation needs. It is a busy day for all involved. We ensure everything in the houses works safely, welcome packs, bedding, telly works, food in the fridge, and a fresh set of towels.

Our existing lasses help me to prepare a room for a new referral and the first weekend involves welfare calls & checks are made. A busy day and we at SHE have, after nine months, got this down to military precision.

I always like to welcome our lasses into their new accommodation and what has struck me most is how these women have so much thrown at them in one day. Long gone are the days of opening the prison gates and a solitary figure walking out & stepping into the unknown.  The Day of Coming Home is packed to the rafters of busyness and activity. Managed with appointments, streamlining, almost cattle herding. (I dare say it & I have)

But what has struck me, is this day is always Friday. It is SHE who takes over at the weekend. This of course is what we are there for. The first weekend is always busy, maybe the boiler breaks down, out of everybody’s control. This alone is an issue for any person. As luck would have it, we have a 24-hour service, it can be repaired. The first weekend is busy and of course, in shared accommodation, it is difficult getting to know other people in the house. I do worry that each house resident feels able to address issues within and we are there to help them through. I do care. Offering a service is very different from accepting a service and it is SHE women who have to live within what is a new environment. Our house meetings are there for that reason, support should there be in-house issues. There are and have been.

The Day of Coming Home is fraught with activity for all members of SHE & it is the best part for me. As Rehabilitation is still used so widely and features in Payment by Results, SHE retains an understanding of what it is like on the Day of Coming Home.

Image kindly provided by Jen McNeil 

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.