Norfolk ex-offenders charity appeals for more mentors
Community Chaplaincy Norfolk (CCN), which supports ex-offenders to rebuild their lives after prison, appealed for more volunteer mentors and financial support at its first annual meeting at St Stephen’s Church in Norwich last night. Keith Morris reports.
The Christian charity currently has a dozen mentors supporting around 18 ex-offenders immediately after they leave prison at HMP Norwich and HMP Wayland.
It has recently appointed a new project leader – Mel Wheeler – who is leading a recruitment drive for new volunteer mentors.
Speaking at the annual meeting, Mel said: “The ethos of CCN is that the client comes first. Outcomes and targets are important, but this project has heart and soul. It is no ‘do-goodery’ it has genuine compassion. We welcome all faiths and none to work alongside us.
“When ex-offenders come out of prison they often face bewilderment at an unrecognizable society which can be alien to them. Even crossing the road can be difficult or using the internet and adapting to freedom of making own choices. In prison the pace of life is slow and every minute of time is controlled – they are told what to do, when and for how long.
“Our mentors can offer practical help – accompanying clients to appointments, mediating, offering advice, access to other provision, locating and accessing services.
“We can help clients to look for accommodation through the Pathways service, and finding meaningful activities to stave off boredom - which is often a trigger for offending behaviour - building their self-worth. This can include work, training, education, volunteering and leisure activities. We are also able to make new community connections – maybe via a church or community group.”
Mel, and administrator Paula Callam, will be offering a six-week training course for new mentors on Wednesday evenings at the Kings Centre in Norwich, starting on February 19.
Mentors should be reliable, good listeners, aged over 25, understand the importance of a non-judgmental, confidential service which is open to clients of all faiths and none.
Two new mentors, Doreen Cochrane from St Stephen’s Church in Norwich and Marcia Fenwick from the Catholic parish of Beccles, were presented with certificates to mark their completion of the training course.
In its initial phase, CCN has been supported by grant funding from the Norfolk Police and Crime Commissioner and from the Allen Lane Foundation but from April new funding will be needed, chair of trustees Rev Matthew Hutton told the meeting.
“At that point our current funding will have come to an end and so we now are actively searching for some £160,000, payable over a 40-month period, or £4,000 a month, from next April.
Before the meeting Matthew said: “My own journey with CCN can be traced back to a placement I did in January last year at the Prison Chaplaincy under the watchful eye of managing chaplain Father Paulinus. There I sensed a call to work with ex-offenders and so I did the mentor’s initial training and started as a mentor. And then in July I felt that I should join the Board of Trustees. We have a fantastic team of people and I am passionately committed to what we do for the good of the individuals, their families and friends and indeed society as a whole.”
In a new video to promote the charity (click here to view), client Damien Lynch, said: “If Paula from CCN wasn’t there when I came out of prison, the first thing I would have done is bought myself 20 fags and some strong beer or a bottle of vodka and would have walked somewhere else and scored. But because she was there to meet me, I didn’t have that option. I don’t think I would have made it on my own if I am honest. I would have bumped into someone I shouldn’t have been hanging about with and that would have been it.”
If you would like to explore mentor training, can offer funding support or ideas, or just want to find out more, contact Mel at: email@example.com or visit www.norfolkchaplaincy.org.uk
Pictured top is CCN project leader Mel Wheeler (centre), with new mentors Marcia Fenwick (left) and Doreen Cochrane and, above, chair Rev Matthew Hutton addressing the annual meeting.