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EFL Trust prison project building safer communities

Three football clubs and prisons are working together to develop life skills and opportunities for offenders across the South West and Wales as part of a ground breaking initiative called Alternative Lives. 

Backed by the EFL Trust’s Ten Year Anniversary innovation fund, Alternative Lives uses the inspirational power of professional football clubs alongside first class athletic training and mentoring programmes to deliver ‘through-the-gate’ support to people before and after their release from the criminal justice system.  

The first phase of the project involved a partnership between Cardiff City and HM Prison Cardiff, where coordinators reported an unprecedented camaraderie between prison staff and project workers. 

This spirit of sporting challenge and competition has helped to inspire and engage participants who are also mentored in self-confidence, resilience and communication skills. 

“By offering participants the opportunity to get involved in a project like this, we can help them step out of prison and be highly motivated people,” said the EFL Trust’s Director of Operations, Mike Evans. “We spoke to participants about the benefits of the programme and they used words like ‘challenging’, ‘competitive’, ‘motivating’. 

Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle are set to take Alternative Lives forward in 2019 by sending coaching teams into HMP Exeter and HMP Channings Wood, respectively. 

The Clubs have worked together with Cardiff City to ensure the programme is carefully tailored to the prisons involved, while maximising the potential to support participants in the crucial period around their release from custody. 

Elaine Williams of the Cardiff City Community Foundation said: “We’ve worked quite closely with Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle to design a programme that has an element of flexibility. 

“One of the most important parts of this programme is the through-the-gate element. We will be providing mentoring support to participants, all of whom are due for release within the next five months, and a few of them before Christmas.  

 “We’ll be maintaining contact with them and supporting them in a variety of aspects, from focusing on the positive use of their time to designing personal development plans and setting goals. 

 “It’s helping them achieve those goals and focus on them once they come through the gate.” 


The Justice Star programme will be used to measure the success of Alternative Lives, examining outcomes including improved education and employment opportunities, substance and alcohol awareness, and improved health and wellbeing among participants. 

Elaine continued: “The Justice Star programme has given Alternative Lives key areas to focus on, and that is not limited to football clubs. We are allowed to signpost organisations through resettlement teams and other community partners so that participants get the necessary help when they come through the gate.” 

Jamie Vittles, Head of Community at Exeter City Community Trust and the instigator behind the project’s approach, said: ‘We have been working closely with HMP Exeter and Channings Wood to develop our offender intervention programme which will use the inspiration of professional football and positive role models to reduce reoffending. The programme will focus on four key outcomes, improving life-skills, health and wellbeing, education and employment opportunities.

“We believe that football, and sport more generally, has the power to make a difference to people’s lives and we are pleased to be exploring different ways of tackling a significant problem for our prisons and our communities.’

The project involved preparing each club’s coaching staff and prison officers by delivering the Trauma-Informed Workforce Mentoring Award. 

Alliance of Sport Co-Founder and Secretariat, Justin Coleman, said: “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. 

“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. 

“The 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 and by the community trust coaches, who will continue to mentor and support them, just as they did in prison.” 

Read Justin’s recent blog on the Trauma-Informed training he conducted with the coaches here.

* The Alternative Lives project is separate and distinct from David Dein’s recently announced Twinning Project.

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