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How climbing is helping prison leavers overcome huge obstacles

London’s biggest climbing wall is an appropriate place for prison leavers who are helped to overcome big obstacles in their lives by the Reasons Why Foundation.

The Foundation has provided through-the-gate mentoring to over 800 people leaving custody throughout London since it was founded in July 2012, helping them overcome the practical and psychological difficulties faced by the majority of released detainees.

The Foundation runs a variety of programmes to encourage behaviour and lifestyle change, helping those involved in crime make better decisions, improve their lives and reduce the risk of re-offending.

The latest of these programmes features one of the Foundation’s founder Roger Blackman’s own passions – climbing.

There have been two programmes with 12 people on each so far, but Roger plans to expand these numbers significantly in 2020. Participants climb with their own assigned volunteer mentor and the shared experience of scaling an 11-foot wall together is a valuable bonding experience.

“It is a great activity for building trust between two people, taking them out of their comfort zones and teaching people they can do more, and it’s also fun and physically demanding,” explains Roger.

“Being able to trust your mentor and have fun with them is a big thing. When you do anything with someone it’s better than doing something for them. It’s like travelling beside someone on their journey rather than leading or pushing them. There is also something about bringing the body and the mind together that has a very profound wellbeing advantage.

“The wall as a giant obstacle is a great metaphor for where they find themselves in their lives. Some of them are aware of that at some level. It goes beyond the physical.”

People leaving custody are referred to the Reasons Why Foundation from many different agencies at various stages of pre- or post-release. Each is assigned a volunteer mentor who will guide them with the practicalities of housing, income, education, employment and family relationships, as well as simply being someone to talk to on a regular basis. The support is moulded around each individual’s needs.

“It’s trauma-informed, it’s asset-based and person-centred – all those buzz words that have now been adopted worldwide we’ve been doing since 2012! It’s only now they’ve been given labels,” says Roger.

The Reasons Why Foundation’s volunteers are a vital resource for getting through what Roger calls the “mess and chaos” of post-prison life – and he should know.

Roger finished an 18-year sentence in 2001 and was astonished at the lack of support he received post-release. He started work in the charity sector eager to help those in the same position as him, but became disillusioned at the politics and bureaucracy involved. Eventually he decided to go it alone.

It’s no coincidence that Reasons Why are now introducing the power of sport into their support programmes. Whilst inside, Roger found physical activity to be a lifeline. He ran and lifted weights, which he found “develops discipline, physical control, helps overcome fear and helps control your emotions within that environment.”

Continuing the physical activity theme, Roger (above) and the Reasons Why volunteer team are set to embark on their biggest ever fundraiser in June by completing the 30th Royal Windsor Triathlon (Olympic distance) then doing the Velo Birmingham and Midlands (a 100-mile ride from Birmingham to Coventry and back) a week later.

Roger has just about recovered from a recent back injury and will begin training in earnest in late January. He hopes to recruit up to 50 of his volunteers to join him and raise an average of £500 each in funding for the Foundation.

You can sponsor Roger and the Reasons Why Foundation team o this summer’s challenge here.

The Reasons Why Foundation are a long-standing member of the Alliance of Sport. To find out more about their work visit their website.


(Main photo by Jonathan J. Castellon on Unsplash)

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