SHE (support & housing)

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.

 

 

 

 

Habilitation not Rehabilitation

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Cameron’s Speech on Prison Reform

David Cameron has stirred up the Criminal Justice System with his liberal speech on Prison Reform. My initial reaction was critical and sceptical, which is often the case when I hear politicians discussing prisons and the crisis.

There are statements which I could tear apart. Such as:

It’s pretty hard to get into prison in the first place

I still cannot get my head around the above. I am the first to admit those who are unjust should be dealt with at the hands of our justice system. Justice underpins the stability of any society. People mention often the law of the land – ensure society functions. I disagree, Justice is and should be for everybody. First and foremost, the victims of any crime should be considered and treated with compassion. Those who commit harm in communities against our most vulnerable, children and the elderly, should be held accountable for their actions. Of all the people I engage with, I have yet to come across any person that denies this. It’s called developing a conscience and taking responsibility. Equally, compassion should be shown to those who are dragged through the courts unnecessarily. Those whom are acquitted, we should allow their lives to be restored to normal.

Naturally, the papers have created a frenzy and in particular provided opportunities to give Chris Grayling, possibly the most unpopular Secretary of State for Justice in history, a good going over with the public chiming in.  I do not see Cameron giving Grayling a thrashing, I saw Cameron thank Grayling and Clarke for the work they had started. Grayling in my view cares not a jot for what people think, he did what he did with a guillotine the size of Greenland and sliced up areas of Justice. However one feels about that. It happened. I feel it time to move forward.

 So you won’t hear me arguing to neuter judges’ sentencing powers or reduce their ability to use prison when it is required.

Yet, the above statement has me toiling arduously on sentencing. In November, I was a co-speaker at the University of Worcester on women supporting women. Organised by Beverley Gilbert, this event had Kristy O’Dowd speaking about her experiences on domestic abuse, Clare McGregor, the author of Coaching Behind Bars and the Managing Director of Coaching Inside and Out, and Lucy Baldwin, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at DMU, the co-author and editor of Mothering Justice.

Lucy Baldwin, in Mothering Justice has produced the first book that explores Motherhood in both Criminal and Social Justice Settings. Through the chapters written by practitioners and professionals, Mothering Justice gets down to the nuts and bolts of the impact on children of mothers in prison, suffering with post-natal depression, mental health problems and those in the grip of substance misuse along with detailed analysis and critical thinking on how the Judiciary as a whole treats mothers.   At the Q&A of the event, Lucy explained her vision for challenging the sentencing framework of mothers and I agree. Cameron’s statement above does not leave much room for discussing this. However, use prison when it is required is worth a poke around and provides some wiggle room for discussion as today proves.

Now we are 48-hours in from Cameron’s speech, having read various articles on the planned reforms, I don’t feel quite so uptight as I did on Monday when the damn thing aired. His speech has opened dialogue and from researchers to journalists and bloggers, a raft of scathing to critical to slamdunking him with one of Boris’s water cannons, has been rapid. But interesting views from all.

Habilitation not Rehabilitation

There is a rather fabulous group on women on Twitter and we have all experienced the Criminal Justice System in one way or another. With this in mind, a dialogue opened that was powerful, creative and suggestive of ways forward to challenge perceptions and do some critical thinking of our own. This thread began with a question two days ago asking if women are more likely to be sentenced to custody for a first time offence than men? There’s nothing like a gender discussion to get hearty debate going. Dave said debate was to be reset. Well reset the debate we did, Dave. You came out of our debate, unscathed.

Opening the dialogue was @A4587GA, Candy and what she said was bang on. She offered up dialogue on critically thinking rehabilitation, employment, policy in its current form. I didn’t need much convincing I was onto something good here. Candy mentioned resilience and skills. Something I tapped into myself when faced with a journey through the CJS that impacted my life deeply. Then along came @kallyann73, wanting self-employment training for women prior to leaving prison. Bringing up the centre of the debate were the fabulous women from @WomensPrisonsUK throwing in some excellent comments on resettlement, isolation of women in Wales on release and the difficulty in gaining employment. @WorkingChance explained the issues they felt affected women’s chances of seeking gainful employment on release and the difficulties with ROTL or should we say the lack of. ROTL are taking six weeks to and Working Chance explained employers were frustrated with the length of time ROTL arrangements take.

I threw in comments on education at secondary school level, politics onto the curriculum, talk to young women and challenge our thinking. Together the group found positive ways to form new thinking, new approaches and lessen a growing dependency on systems. Throughout the debate there was a hearty thrust that was powerful and engaging. We explored new ways of working, systems all have flaws, yet systems don’t care for us. That’s our job. Any woman that emerges from prison, should begin new journeys, find their path. Of course, mandatory attending of Probation appointments should factor in. In the time of the lifespan of the SHE Project, I have found smart, resourceful and eager women ready to put their lives in a new direction.

This got me thinking, throughout the dialogue, thoughts were written on policy, resettlement packages, which are all the remit of Probation. In my journey, I had to find my way through and out of every ten decisions, I have made seven bad ones. No more so in the infancy period of SHE. The project has been faced with challenges, I have been. But each day, I carry on and with great support, I am able to feel more grounded and level-headed. Between us today, we tore up systems and looked at the strengths of women-supporting-women and the sunshine broke through.

I have never once supported the word rehabilitation. What are we rehabilitating to???

Rehabilitation is not a word I have ever used. I haven’t returned to my former self. I have come through more educated, my eyes are opened, I have embraced challenges that five years ago could have set me back. I have navigated my way through barriers and no longer am I afraid to challenge myself and others on problems.   I have completed my literature review for my Griffins Fellowship on women and homelessness. I have a fantastic supervisor and confidently presented my progress to date.   I have a new contract I am working on… It’s a whole new life for me – still beset with pain, but I am finding it easier to live with.

From today, we are launching The Habilitation Focus Group – this will explore women’s issues in the CJS and discuss ways in which we can support women from the CJS – whilst supporting each other in our own enterprises. We emerged as women who felt strongly, the only way to begin to gain change was by being positive. Once we gather support, we will look to begin to channel all that dialogue. Bringing together powerful narratives is a way of moving forward as a group but also as individual women.

So Dave, not quite what we were expecting from you. But it’s opened up some avenues and started dialogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHE Project. Halfway Mark for First Members

SHE has a few members now. The very first members came to us via the Gateways Project & Lancashire Constabulary.

Our first two women were released from prison in August. No strangers to prison cells, SHE’s women are tough & resourceful.  Naturally, issues have flared up. Our women are firstly human beings who have served their time and deserve support & encouragement. They both needed a home and SHE was able to provide this. SHE offers stable accommodation for six months, with support to maintain the accommodation. We also offer an office where our members can use the telephone to make all those ridiculously expensive calls to the DWP et Al.

Together, as a project, we have learned from each other. These women showed us what they needed and SHE as a project, gave them the space & time to find their feet.

Over coffee today, I approached with our women that we were at the halfway mark of their accommodation six-month period.  I asked our women to think about the road ahead & their plans for when their six-month period was at an end. I offered our continued support if they felt they needed this and we had a unanimous, resounding “can we stay on the project & have another six months?”

With my utmost pleasure, ladies, you can indeed. As our flagship members, these women are settled, have been given the independence they sought, treated as human beings & they have a lovely home in which they are safe & protected.  Oh & Mr Grayling? Two more to deduct from those pesky reoffending figures.

All of this was achieved from a tatty notepad, on a canal bank when I experienced first-hand the effects of homelessness and the Criminal Justice System.

Good news is. SHE has members bringing up the rear. Our males on INCAS are doing well and we have more women who have joined up for support & housing.

We are soon to open a five-bedroomed unit which will serve as temporary accommodation for women coming from prison. This will enable us to assess and prepare people for our project and offer what is a growing way of offering stable accommodation.

I have dragged myself through from a notepad, an idea and 18 months of writing about my experiences as a woman in the CJS. Our services are now being recognised, I have come up against a system that fails those it could help the most.

Were it not for the support of Burnley, Pendle & ROSSENDALE Council for Voluntary Services, the incredible sassy, professional and wonderful team who give their time freely to the project, SHE could not deliver as she does.

But SHE does. Because SHE can.

A Letter for Mum…

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Dear Mum,

I remember as a child, your wonderful Irish accent and how I used to make you say, “terty tree”  Your illness was at a peak back in 1977 and I have never forgotten being driven away by Dad’s car and seeing you forlorn on the court steps. While with Dad, I could never accept at 10 years old, that I was to have a “new mother” you were my mum.

I lost you on Thursday morning. Gone from my visual periphery, but always in my mind, just as you were in the three decades I was unable to see you as I bludgeoned my way from country-to-country and creating an illustrious career for myself. Finding you was on my mind as I returned to Burnley and your story began to unravel.

I read you had died, I was told you had died. I read that I had died as a child in a fire. But you hadn’t died, you were this larger than life legend in Burnley, nicknamed “Mad Mary” Everywhere I went, I asked if you were known. You were.  Very much so.

I finally found you in 2011. Your beautiful snow white hair resembled a bird’s nest and cataracts on your eyes had rendered you almost blind. I had never forgotten my mammy ‘ s face. Because you lived on in me for thirty years. To say I was shocked on finding you is an understatement.  All those years on the streets had taken their toll. You had been spat on, abused and robbed by many. Discarded by society, family and friends. Losing your children was the worst travail that society inflicted on you. It showed.  Together, we learned to trust each other as I came to the hospital each day with Brian to build you up. We took you out, fought the hospital for better awareness of you as a woman who had all been forgotten about. We brought you back to life, hooked you into services and your journey into society began. While the services battled against me to have you placed into residential care, Brian & I listened to you. We asked the question:

“What do you want?”

You responded in your beautiful Irish lilt,

“A bed,  fire and a TV with my own front door key”

By this time, you had your cataracts removed. You had seen me as a grown woman for the first time. I’ll not forget coming to the hospital when you saw me and held my face in your hands and told me:

‘Take it from your chest & put it onto mine* You knew your daughter was troubled and I was.

I found you a home and with the help of Kayla & Dave, we moved you in from hospital. I knew you were scared. You didn’t want to fit in with society. Street life regardless what people think, comes with its own set of rules. The main one being there are no rules. Anything goes. I did my best to guide you on the boundaries in your home and I helped you with your budgeting and getting uses to your new carers. Wonderful people who became as much a part of my life as they did yours. You gradually settled down and you were safe. Happy and contented with your books and day trips out.

Last year, Mammy,  you came through for me. You kept me alive when I wanted to die. I was on my way to prison and your words to me as I lay in a hospital after an attempt on my life gave me strength to find my feet again. You never left me on the end of the phone. Those words,

‘Come home to Mammy, your Mammy will look after you. I did. I never went to prison. I came home to you and I began to build my life again. What I do today in Burnley for those who have also been left to rot by society is as much about you as it is about me. It is down to your strength I came through to help those I help today.  You kept me going so I could build SHE and that makes you everything that a mother could be.

Despite your condition, which many do not understand, you had a beautiful mind and you have become a legend in Burnley.  With the rough end, came the true kindness of people who truly did care and this shows in these early days since the news came out you had passed. Your mind was amazing and if I have half a jot of what you had to move forward without you, I’ll always, always remember it came from you.  You were never a victim, even though you were. You were never self-indulged (selfish at times and drove me mad) only contented that you had me back in your life.

When I got the call on Thursday that I needed to get to your home as soon as possible, I was hoping to hold your hand as you left this world to travel to a new one. You’d gone by the time I arrived, but I got to see you. You were peaceful and your beautiful face with your button nose was the mirror I looked into so I could say goodbye and will you to your peace and safe heaven.

You saved me and our last three years together have been wonderful. As short as that time was, we certainly packed enough into that short time. You gave me much more than you’ll ever know. Look down on me once in a while and make sure I’m okay, coz it’s fecking tough at times doing what I’m doing.  But I have your spirit and live to keep me going.

We at SHE and the people of Burnley and Ireland say our goodbyes to the legend that is Irish Mary. I’ll make sure you live on in our hearts and those who forgot about you can breathe a sigh of relief.  You didn’t die on the streets for people to step over. I made sure you were safe and loved.

As I go through your home, that we built together, I found the book that I bought for you when you were in hospital. You kept that and underneath my note to you, I found this and I’ll cherish it always;

” If by chance I lose this book and if by chance you find it, please remember my name is Mary and McMahon goes behind it”

I’ll keep those words and if I may, I’ll use them;

‘If by chance I lose my way and if by chance you find me, please remember my name is Tracey & McMahon goes behind it*

Safe Home, Mammy, Safe Home. I’m taking you home to Tipperary so you truly can rest in peace. You more than anyone I know, deserve it.

All my love,

Tracey.

Addendum to this letter.

Having spoken with my cousin, this blog has been edited as a result of our conversation.

My cousin explained her side and we are to meet up and together, we can get through her passing.

Unpopular Causes – What is One?

I’ve been in a few discussions recently over unpopular causes.  I compared SHE’S fundraising campaign to that of a journalist’s to live tweet from the hacking trial. We raised £65 and his campaign received well over £10,000. I’m thoroughly grateful to the wonderful people who gave generous donations and that money has been used wisely. We have almost got everything we need for our next house and we have five rooms now available for those leaving prison without a home to return to.

During the development of SHE, while I recognised services were patchy to say the least, there are some brilliant support networks for women leaving prison.  Some of the women housed with SHE are hooked into Lancashire Women’s Centres and other agencies which means the level of support is strong. The fact I encourage this widely is because I was desperate for support and at that time my fragility of mind meant I could have easily become dependant on anyone or anything.

Our men’s project, INCAS, is spearheaded by men. Men developed the project based on their experiences both of the CJS & society.  In the town of Burnley, services for men are as rare as rocking horse shit. Our first member of the projects was male. Released from prison after serving nine weeks of an 18-week sentence, this man had no home, was suicidal and came to us shaking and terrified.  Our chairman spent time with him, playing chess, talking and supporting him. We managed to find him emergency accommodation until his property was ready. We got him hooked into services and he took it upon himself to sign up to the Revolution team from Lancashire Police who offer support to prison leavers.

INCAS is soon to be starting a men’s group. Men, unlike women, can isolate and withdraw which is dangerous particularly when simply dumped outside a prison gate with nowhere to go. Men are much less likely to draw empathy from society than women are. It is no secret men are more likely to take their lives than women. Men struggle to ask for help and reoffending is often their only option to survive.  Going a step further,  the CJS was designed by men for men and it shows. Not because it is unsuitable for women, (it is)  but there is not the support for men which is why the CJS is one big monstrous mess. Women are far more likely to be further up the sentencing tariff,  than a male for a first offence, particularly mothers, as middle class Magistrates judge the woman as opposed to the crime. Men will climb the tariff and have more custodial increments than women.

During a meeting on Friday with a probation officer who is joining our management committee, I discussed with him early intervention in domestic abuse incidents and the possibility of the INCAS Project coordinator working with him on this area for men. Probation agreed it was an area he (bearing in mind his demanding full-time role) would put time into.  My default setting is keeping the family unit intact where safe to do so. At the first sign of abuse, intervention at an earlier stage is vital. I have read some excellent work on early intervention in domestic abuse situations and I fail to see how more work in this area should not be explored. Ignoring abuse at early stages has cost lives, split families and caused generations of children to suffer as adults after witnessing domestic abuse. I witnessed my mother attack my father with a knife as a child, I’ve never forgotten this as an adult.

The support in place for victims of domestic abuse is highlighted often.  But the problem will never be eradicated or solved if only side is supported and the perpetrator isolated. To raise awareness and truly take the bull by the horns, we have to, for the sake of our future generations, look at pathways to step in at a much earlier stage. An unpopular cause? Very much so. I’ve seen resistance to the research on restorative solutions in domestic abuse. As unpopular as it may be, we at INCAS are willing to explore this area. INCAS & SHE are fortunate in that we have a management committee with a lot of experience in a vast range of areas including unpopular causes.

For the sake and safety of our next generation, we should be looking at earlier interventions to keep a family together and show that solutions are possible. Unpopular as this may be, our children deserve at least further exploration.

 

 

Women in The Justice System: Let women decide their needs on release.

Women in the Justice System is rarely out of the news. There appears to be a distinct interest in women who commit crime. As a woman who has journeyed through a court, I often wonder what is so fascinating about women who commit crime.

Since the news has got out around my project locally, I have been approached regularly by people looking to volunteer. I have had to seriously consider what these women who will be supported in their new homes, need. Having researched women in prison, spoken directly with women who have been in prison, and now housing women from prison, I have to restructure how I, as the coordinator of the project that I built based on my experiences, look for the skills in people to offer support to women who have been released from prison.

We all know a home is required prior to any support that can be put in place. SHE provides a home. SHE provides a safe and secure environment where women can feel safe. Not a person’s sofa or a grotty hostel. (Yes, hostels are unpleasant places, I was in one) Prison is one of the shittiest institutions a country can have. Yet within or behind the gates too high for the public to see over, women learn from each other. They cluster together and get through how the state, ignore the needs of women in their care. I have two former female prisoners who are tenants and have created a lovely little home for themselves. Everybody appears amazed these women are able to run a home. For pity’s sake, these are women who have run homes. Being in prison does not remove the ability to run a home, shop, wire a plug and operate a washing machine. Hello, these women have survived horrendous conditions that would make a woman who runs a mansion, shudder.

I have kept relatively quiet while our women have settled into their home. I have given them the space, respect and courtesy to settle into their new home. There have been disputes, but these women, and let we not forget, have resolved, as the adults they are, in-house, these disputes. See, that is what they did inside. Today, they came to my office & had coffee. They always cheer me up, they talk over one another and speak loudly, because this is what they had to do inside. And the best bit? We laugh. They are a pure joy & delight to work alongside and are capable, streetwise, sassy and bloody smart.

Back to volunteers. Having been approached by many, who I have spoken with, I find (and I am not dissmissing volunteers at all) there are some who have used pre-defined ideology on what these women need. Our tenants have shown me the way, without knowing it. They have shown me what they need. By their words, the thank you they give me when I ask their consent, consent majority of humans take for granted each day, but most of all, our women have told me what they need. To find their own path and less of a regime than they have been subjected to behind the walls.

Of course, SHE has to abide by many guidelines and we do. We have a duty of care. To encourage a visit to the GP on acceptance to the project, to ensure correct insurances are in place, offer support when asked for support and most of all, show respect that they are free to make informed choices around their needs.

The pathways that women need, according to many, are in place and a paper by Baroness Corston has been gathering dust. Let women who are released from prison, choose for themselves their needs. All our women wanted, was a home. They have settled in and are content. Their further needs are met and where we cannot meet them, we have close links with organisations that can.

I have been known to be up in arms over how women in prison are overlooked on release. I can only offer my support as a woman who has been through the CJS and served a suspended sentence. I can offer support as a woman who has been homeless. I can offer women support when they are separated from their children. I know that pain.

The simplicity of what a woman who has been released from prison, needs, has been swamped by glossy brands. SHE is simple. It costs little, she needs supporting at times, SHE knows what she needs to do. Listen, provide the basic essentials and the rest will fall into place. Needs change, just as they do in any woman who has not been through a prison gate.

Give these women the freedom to make informed choices. They have served their sentence…. they paid the price for their behaviour. At a time of difficult change in rehabilitation, let us, as a society, offer what we all have. The freedom to make informed choices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home and a Front Door Key

Life is full of ‘what ifs ‘ and during my journey through the CJS,one of the glaringly obvious stand-alone issues, I faced, was that I did not have, a mental health illness and/or a substance misuse problem. It is not a lie when I say I was unable to get any help to secure a roof over my head. I was often asked if I had a drug addiction, or a mental health illness. Computer said no, so many  times to me.

I would go as far to say, not having any of the above, made it nigh-on-impossible to get any help. I have worked with three women this week, all have had contact with the CJS and despite their chaotic lives, primarily having no home, these are bright,streetwise, tough and incredibly resourceful women. The beautiful aspect of all the ugliness they have been through shines through in having the simple things in life. Like a bathmat, sanitary items, bubble bath and hot water. Essentially, a place called home. These women had no home and now they do. Three women who came to me via different agencies, have bonded over a coffee and talked to each other on how they could live together. All were sofa-surfing, on two-seater sofas, or mattresses, living under other people’s roofs and tip-toeing around their hosts.

But no longer. These three women now have a home, their own home, they have put pictures up on the wall, sorted out whose cupboard is whose. These women have run homes, raised children and lost everything. I know what that is like. It is soul destroying.

I know and understand where these women have been. Two of these women have dealt with their substance misuse prior to coming to SHE. They had done the hard work while sleeping on someone else’s sofa. I watched them on Friday as they unpacked their food and proudly placed them in the kitchen cupboards. I simply leaned against the wall and smiled. For those familiar with my story, I remember that feeling well. To hand these women, their own front door key was the best feeling for them and for me.

The first ‘live’ week of SHE is spearheaded by these three women, who never knew each other and now work together to begin a journey. Three very different journeys, yet united in circumstance.

Now these women can begin in the safety of their own home. From the sofa of others, to responsibility of running a home. They are all going to write to our women in US prisons and with links into courses, craft classes, wishes to end their dependency on benefits, entering a court dock is the furthest from their minds.

In its first week, SHE has housed three women, that is down to hard work from the community, Graham Lightbown, Lancashire Constabulary, Inspire, Community Solutions and the support of the team who work alongside me, not to mention the great team at BRPCVS.

I am highly protective of SHE. Built from the canal towpath, a pen and a tatty notepad, to a live project with a multi-agency approach. No politics, just a simple little piece of metal for three women who were mentally & physically exhausted because of their living circumstances after being in prison and a community-based sentence.

A home is safety & security. Without this, there is nothing. Only then can any person begin to build a life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.