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‘Alternative Lives’ pilot project hailed a success

The Alternative Lives prison programme delivered by Exeter City, Plymouth Argyle and Cardiff City FC community trusts has hugely benefited participants, coaches and prison staff.

An initial eight-week pilot finished in April and saw participants in HMP Cardiff, HMP Exeter and HMP Channings Wood undertake a bespoke course which included sport sessions, coaching qualifications, employability, fitness, nutrition, mental health and mindfulness.

There is a strong element of mentoring to the course, working on offenders’ self-confidence, resilience and communication skills. Crucially, coaches and mentors provide through-the-gate support to help participants adjust to life on the outside after their release, both practically and mentally. The ultimate aim is to give them the strength and tools to steer clear of reoffending.

Funded by the EFL Trust’s 10-year anniversary innovation fund, the course was devised by Jamie Vittles and Mark Lovell from Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle’s respective community trusts.

Participants in the prisons undertake their Employability Level 1 and UK Sports Leaders Level 1 qualifications, delivering multi-sports, football, tag rugby, cricket and volleyball lessons with selected inmates.

Jason Chapman, Deputy Scheme Manager from Plymouth Argyle Community Trust, described the experience of the coaching staff on day one of the new project: “I had never set foot in a prison before. I didn’t know what to expect. I was a little anxious in the first session but as soon as I met the lads they put me at ease.

“If you treat them with respect, they will treat you with respect back. There are some nice guys in there who are very engaged and want to learn. They want to make good use of their time and make something positive out of a bad thing. It gives people a second chance to try to better themselves on release.

“The mindfulness element is excellent. A coach comes in one afternoon a week, teaching them how to deal with emotions and feelings in a prison setting, such as someone not turning up for a visit. It’s then about how they deal with that, instead of smashing things or beating people up.”

As a coach, showing empathy and flexibility are important, adds Jason: “They are in a regimented environment where they are dictated to, told when they will be locked up and when they can or cannot have things. Emotions can be quite high.

“Sometimes in the morning session they can be top of the world, then something happens at lunchtime and they can come back absolutely raging. You’ve got to have empathy around the participants and a degree of flexibility in your plans. Most of all, you’ve got to build that rapport and trust.”

Main pic: Chris Weale of Exeter City, Gary Sawyer of Plymouth Argyle and Troy Brown of Exeter City community trusts; Front row – project participants Alvin, Ian, James and Ali. Photo credit: Ian Tuttle.

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