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Blog: How we’re empowering our community to support offenders

Our Co-Founder and Secretariat, Justin Coleman, explains the role the Alliance of Sport is playing in an exciting initiative led and developed Exeter City Community Trust, working with Cardiff City, Plymouth Argyle and staff in three prisons.


Much of my time recently has been dedicated to a project that perfectly encapsulates the Alliance of Sport’s vision – prisons and community sport organisations working together to benefit people held in the criminal justice system and make communities safer.

Exeter City Community Trust have joined forces with their counterparts at nearby clubs Plymouth Argyle and Cardiff City to devise a football and mentoring project in local prisons, funded by the EFL Trust.

Over the last nine months, the Alliance of Sport has applied our expertise to train prison officers and coaching staff from all three clubs in a ‘trauma-informed approach’ to mentoring participants in custody and through the gate into the community. Our aim is to enable them to develop their own solid Qualified Mentoring Service to work effectively with offenders, many of whom have challenges and issues founded in ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences).

Through our training, the cohort of 12 delivery staff from the three football clubs and prisons will all achieve a Level 3 in Trauma Informed, 1st4Sport Workforce Mentoring Award. Most importantly our bespoke training will give them a focused service framework for their project which they can then localise to suit the people in front of them, their specific needs and the prison/community environment.

The first pilots will launch in HMP Cardiff, then in HMP Channings Wood later this year with a third planned to follow on in HMP Exeter.

Using football and other sports as an engagement tool, participants will undergo an eight-week programme which includes education, employability and proprietary mentoring, leading onto community mentoring when released.

Our training has given coaching staff from Exeter, Plymouth and Cardiff’s community trusts the chance to collaborate with staff from the prisons’ gym and education departments, learning each other’s systems, ways of operating, procedures and – most importantly – expectations of each other and the roles they each play within the process of the participants’ journey.

The training begins with an introduction to the trauma-informed approach, informing the cohort about the importance of ACEs and some of the barriers that can prevent people become pro-social citizens and cause them to be held in the cycle of reoffending.

We look at how to build resilience, the importance of positive role models and understanding appropriate goal-setting at different stages of people’s journeys of change.

We next introduce the policies, philosophies and procedures of mentoring and look at issues such as safeguarding and attachment theory, discussing things such as exit strategies for both mentee and mentor and the professional and personal services and networks around the participants.

Each member of staff has homework set for them where they work informally with two ‘mentees’ on particular tasks or goals. We then look at existing mentoring projects, helping them pick out what elements may work for them, so they are using existing frameworks to build their own. This all builds up to observing them delivering out in the field.

The eventual plan is for participants on the prison courses to work towards a smooth transition to life on the outside at the end of their sentences, helped by prison resettlement services as well as the community trust coaches, who will continue to mentor and support them, just as they did in prison.

Post-release, each person will have their issues, which could range from housing to employment, alcohol or drug misuse or forming/re-building positive family relationships.

Support staff will help each offender focus on achieving one goal that will help them be effective with other services and live a better life, thus reducing their likelihood of reoffending. For those who are ready, there will be opportunities to work for the community trusts in front-line roles in early intervention/sports projects within the community.

When our training of delivery staff is finished in October, the next stage for the Alliance of Sport is to collect some evidence on how effective it has been. The cohort’s initial feedback is that it’s been proactive and rewarding, but they haven’t applied their learning yet! That will be its big test. The Alliance of Sport will continue to support as and when needed moving forward.

Both the community and prison staff have been amazing, they have thrown everything they have at learning, sharing and developing a very powerful and promising programme.

Our support for this project is precisely what the Alliance of Sport was set up to achieve – empowering our community with the learning, skills and resources to repair broken lives and build a stronger society for all.

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