Dan Rochester: a role model we’re proud to have on board
Dan Rochester’s life could easily have gone down a different path. It was sport that saved him from the violence-hit and crime-ravaged community he grew up in, and he’s now devoted to helping others in need of a lifeline of their own.
Dan is Senior Youth Work Coordinator for Kinetic Youth, a third-sector organisation that uses youth work methodologies to improve the lives of young people already in, or at risk of becoming involved in, the youth justice system.
Kinetic Youth is a member organisation of the National Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of Crime. Dan represents Kinetic Youth at both the recent round-table event with Dr Phillip Lee and on our Positive Action Group on Gangs, Violence and Extremism.
The wisdom and expertise he offers both personally and professionally are invaluable, drawing on his experience from a career in youth and community work, an upbringing in the troubled Hockley area of Birmingham and his work with Kinetic Youth within the secure estate.
“Football got me out of trouble”
“I left school with no qualifications, but I’d always been good at football and played for Wolves youth team whilst in secondary school, then later signed for Port Vale when I had left school,” he says. “It was the first time I’d had an opportunity to get away from the environment I grew up in.
“I had a chance to get an education while I was at the club and got opportunities to make a different kind of friend. Football got me out of trouble, no doubt. When I came home in between training and matches and saw what was happening, it gave me a new perspective.”
Dan’s brother was gang-affiliated, has been shot five times and has served several jail sentences as a high-risk category prisoner. Dan also has cousins and friends caught up in gangs and violence. But Dan’s time as a footballer away from Birmingham meant he could extricate himself from that scene, even when his football career ended early.
“I started in youth work services, did gang mediation following shootings, worked on family intervention initiatives, supported local authority services engaging with hard-to-reach individuals and set up ‘football in the community’ projects,” he says.
“Everything we do is designed around young people”
He now works with young people inside HM YOI Werrington in Staffordshire, where Kinetic Youth are contracted by HMPPS to deliver a broad range of services including youth clubs, anti-bullying and violence reduction programmes, reintegration courses for marginalised groups, training in peer mentoring, access to library services, helping individuals access release on temporary license and much more.
Kinetic Youth are also contracted by Novus, the education provider, to deliver informal education within the prison to increase young people’s engagement within the formal education curriculum.
“Everything we do is designed to meet the specific needs of the young people. We identify where young people are struggling and support them to access services that may help them to gain new skills or learn things that will help them develop,” Dan explains.
An inspection of HM YOI Werrington published in July this year found that levels of violence and intimidation in the prison had reduced significantly over the previous two years and praised Kinetic Youth’s role in that improvement.
“Kinetic workers always ensure we deliver the best possible service to young people,” Dan explains. “including, where possible, remaining in contact with young people who’ve left the establishment to check on their progress. We ensure phones and social media are available for young people to communicate with us as required.
“One young person had significant issues around anxiety. Before he came to prison, he was homeless and had no contact with his family. He had no aspirations. Our work with him enabled him to regain confidence and get an education. He now has his own place, he’s in college, has a job and is back in contact with his family. We’ve supported him throughout that whole process.”
Reflecting on his ‘journey’ from inner-city Birmingham through professional sport and now specialist youth work in custody, Dan says: “Sport enables young people to focus on something. If you can use that as a tool, whether that’s as a career or not, it gives them distraction and a sense of purpose.
“Now, coming from where I have, I treat young people in the prison no differently to as if I’d met them on the outside. I feel very comfortable inside the prison setting. I am from a similar environment to where these young people are from and I know I could have ended up in the same situation.”