An innovative new pilot programme working to improve the life chances of vulnerable ex-offenders in Norwich when they re-enter society is already having a big impact on local lives, with several ex-offenders already successfully holding down jobs and looking to a better future.

Until recently there has been relatively little support available for ex-offenders when they leave prison, and those most determined not to re-offend, deemed low risk, have often been those who received the least support on their release. The New Life Ambassadors for Change programme, launched in July 2019, has been working to plug the gaps and give ex-offenders an opportunity to embark upon a better life.

Working in partnership with the High Sheriff of Norfolk Lady Clare Agnew, Charles Watt, former High Sheriff of Norfolk, Norwich Prison and the Department for Work and Pensions, Norfolk Community Foundation is helping to ensure that a number of these ex-offenders are securely housed and supported throughout their first year after release, which gives them the best possible opportunity to turn their lives around and make a positive contribution to society. They are being supported through vocational training opportunities, introducing potential employers and help to secure employment prior to leaving custody.

Ex-offenders are met by a support worker at the prison gate when they are released, providing support at a critical time when they can be particularly vulnerable. Once released they benefit from an ongoing relationship with their support worker which aims to be honest and supportive without leading to dependency. Once ex-offenders find employment they continue to be helped with their ongoing health, financial and practical needs, arranged around their work and other commitments such as probationary meetings.

During the first few months of the project, a number of ex-offenders have been supported, with several now in full-time employment. In their own words, the mentoring support offered has been critical to them for maintaining their employment and staying out of custody.

How ex-offenders’ lives have changed through the programme

A support worker met R* at the prison gate on the day of release (he had no other family or friends to meet him and offer support). In his words, he was “overcome” by the help offered on that day and has been thankful since. Support from the programme while in prison enabled him to take up a job role at a local company within ten days of his release. He had no home to go to so was helped to access accommodation. During the first few weeks his employer provided accommodation during the week, and at weekends the programme supported him with a room in a B&B. During this time, he was able to show that he was able to hold down the job and address other needs, so he was then helped to provide the first week’s rent and deposit on a privately rented room. His employer is so pleased that they intend to pay for him to attend a course, which will significantly open up his employment opportunities within the company.

J* was released from prison having had a successful interview with a local firm and he started work within a week of his release. He has thrived at the company and they have been so impressed that they have offered to pay for him to complete his training. He was supported to apply for help with travel to work costs and the purchase of workwear, which has also helped him meet the conditions of his release. He has been assisted with the renewal of his photo driving licence and is being supported to address ongoing issues with debt.

Another ex-offender said of the New Life programme:

“When they visited me in prison I felt that they never judged me for my conviction, but treated me like a person and not a prisoner. They gave me hope and passion and made me feel that not everyone would judge me when I left prison. The encouragement I have received from [my mentor] regarding my CV and applying for jobs has been very helpful.”

Another ex-offender talked about the significant difference that the programme has made to his life:

“When they visited me in prison, it meant a lot to me. I didn’t have any family members to receive me [on the day of release] and it was really touching that someone met me from the gate. [Since I was released], everything that [they] did for me was a help, it was like God sent an angel down to support me”

Claire Cullens, CEO of Norfolk Community Foundation, said:

“The New Life programme demonstrates the impact that support can have to ex-offenders at this early stage, giving them the best chance of turning their lives around. This benefits both themselves and the wider community by greatly reducing the likelihood of reoffending. However, we need more support from local people and businesses to continue making a difference. If you can help support such exciting initiatives making Norfolk a better place please get in touch.”