On Monday this week it was a pleasure to attend the launch of The ARC in Manchester, a new abstinence and recovery centre based close to HMP Manchester. This fantastic project has been commissioned and supported by HMP Manchester and Greater Manchester West NHS Foundation Trust, and is a partnership between these and our members Partners of Prisoners and Family Support Group (POPS), and Emerging Futures, Riverside Housing, and Acorn Recovery Services (click here to find out more about Clinks membership). This was an ideal opportunity to meet some Clinks members and others in the sector, and see partnership working in action. The event was well attended by prison officers and other prison staff, and representatives from the project’s partners and local voluntary sector.
With The ARC being a mere stone’s throw from the prison, service users will be identified before release, and volunteer ‘gate buddies’ will meet ex-offenders at the prison gate, taking them to The ARC and introducing them to the services based there; which include mentoring, coaching, group training, therapy and one to one counselling. The partnership of organisations will provide support for families, housing, employment opportunities, psycho-social work, and peer support, through a holistic approach.
A staff member from Acorn Recovery Services told me they will be providing a mentoring service whereby ex-addicts mentor and share their experiences with service users; an effective approach that Holly Critchley, HMP Manchester's governor and head of drugs strategy, says will provide integrity and credibility to the help that they can provide, with volunteers having been through similar experiences themselves. She says, “as prison staff we can empathise with their situation, but someone who has lived it and breathed it can provide a credible source of support. Addiction is a symptom of the core problem, and hopefully what this centre does is provide individuals with an environment where service users can start to work on some of those issues”.
An Acorn volunteer shared his thoughts on the approach: “We can provide hope and inspiration to service users, generating a paradigm shift in their thinking process, because as addicts they tend to think ‘poor me, poor me’ and when sitting in a rut non-addicts try to get out of it, whilst many addicts sit in it and furnish it - so it’s about challenging the perceptions and the way they think”. Click here to read more about the benefits of service user involvement.
A staff member from Riverside Housing told me about the negative effects of the economic downturn in Manchester, with cuts to services meaning there were now far fewer accommodation options for prison leavers. Her opinion was that housing was the most important aspect of rehabilitation, and that their involvement in the project was paramount to helping ex-offenders desist from crime. Click here to share your experiences of cuts.
Lunch was provided by 2nd Chance café, a branch of which is set up at The ARC. This social enterprise was set up by POPS and is led by volunteers, including ex-offenders, creating opportunities to gain meaningful employment experience within a safe and supportive work environment. Profits from the café are reinvested to support work that meets the diverse and complex needs of offenders and their families. Standing in the queue I got the chance to Tweet a quote from the event – “Stop being a prisoner of your past. Become the architect of your future”. Click here to follow Clinks on Twitter.
A volunteer from POPS tells me there will be no target for numbers of people passing through The ARC’s door, it will be purely needs driven, and they hope to provide the service to as many people as possible. This is a great example of an important partnership between the health and care sector, statutory services, and the voluntary sector, providing a through-the-gate service, which I’m in no doubt will change the lives of many leaving the prison, and have a positive impact on the community in Manchester.
Have you heard of, or are you involved in, any similar initiatives in your local area? How important are through-the-gate services to rehabilitation and desistance from crime?
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Here's the link to the White Paper launched today 'A Smarter Approach to Sentencing'. Clinks will be responding on behalf of voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system. #Sentencing