Chelsea FC Foundation continue to work in partnership with the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex (PFCC) to enable young offenders and adults at HM Prison Chelmsford to resettle into society on their release.
The initiative, Breaking the Cycle, is in its second year and aims to upskill and prepare offenders serving a prison sentence in HMP and Young Offender Institution (YOI) Chelmsford prior to release and resettlement back into the family home.
Funded by the Premier League, Professional Footballers’ Association – Community Fund and the PFCC Community Safety Development Fund, the programme also supports children affected by parental imprisonment or those experiencing offending behaviour by providing education sessions.
Those coming to the end of their sentence are invited to apply for a place on the course, which sees them not only learn coaching skills, but look at health and nutrition, employment, relationships, first aid and safeguarding.
Steve Hallahan, who works in the prison PE department, said: “We work with prisoners who are due for release in the near future.
“They respond brilliantly and it has a big impact on them. Some have never been here before, but others return time and again – this brings them together as a team. We never know when we might break that cycle.
“We teach them life skills they might need in the future – such as writing a CV and interview techniques – and the football brings it all together.
“It’s not about creating football coaches, it’s about finding something positive, like the motivation and confidence to play in the park with their children.
“It shows them that something so simple can be fun and positive and make them feel better. Children look up to adults and aspire to be like them, so we want to create positive role models.”
An independent evaluation of the course by ATD Research and Consultancy Ltd was carried out and found prisoners gained a sense of pride as a result of taking part, which in turn contributed to hard work, dedication and commitment.
They also found the course had united prisoners from different wings, backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicities and cultures and saw them work as a team, encouraging and rooting for each other.
A 20-year-old prisoner, inside for burglary, is passionate about football and earned his place on the course through positive behaviour.
He said: “We will be able to put this experience towards gaining certificates and carrying on in football when we leave. I have a better knowledge of coaching techniques now and would like to carry on with football in the future.
“It is something positive to do. It has made us more comfortable talking to other people and has given us confidence. It gives something back to the community and to ourselves.”
As well as gaining coaching skills, prisoners told how they had grown in confidence and self-belief and were looking to use what they had learnt in parenting.
A 44-year-old father-of-two, jailed for commercial burglary, said: “I have always been active, but when you go out you don’t see a lot of fathers and sons interacting anymore; it’s all about playing video games.
“It will be great for me to have a different skill set and to go to the park to show my children different activities with regards to fitness.
“This has been very useful. It has helped with my mental health, which is a big thing.”
Andrew Morgan, Essex football development manager for the Foundation, works with other agencies, such as Jobcentre Plus, to deliver the week-long course.
He added: “We are trying to build coping mechanisms to build resilience to boost their confidence, wellbeing and self-esteem. Engaging prisoners not to return to old habits when released, offering them a continuous support network before and after leaving prison. We can give them all of that through sport.
“Statistics suggest, that a high proportion of children affected by parental imprisonment are at risk of offending. We are trying to break that cycle and to educate them to educate their children to not make the same mistakes. That is what we are trying to achieve.
“The support continues when they leave prison. We run two resettlement community programmes, with golf and football sessions in Chelmsford and Basildon. That way, they get that consistency and a familiar face with positive activity.”
Roger Hirst, the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, is delighted to be able to support the project. He said: “Safe and secure communities are the bedrock on which we build wellbeing and prosperity for all. One of the commitments in my Police and Crime Plan is to work in partnership with organisations to help reduce the risk of reoffending by getting offenders out of crime and into employment and training, accommodation and healthy relationships. This course is a perfect example.”
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