A PIONEERING scheme to give groups of prisoners a second chance when they leave jail has been launched in Northumberland.
The Oswin Project has been in development for two years. It is aiming to reduce the amount of re-offending in the North East through training, support and paid employment and apprenticeships in the construction and hospitality industries.
The first step was a pilot initiative for four trainees on a construction site and its first major project involves refurbishing a building in De Walden Terrace, Pegswood, so it can be used for an office facility as well as accommodation.
Staff from the prison service have worked with the contractors for both schemes to advertise and select appropriate and motivated offenders.
Through the project, those chosen were prepared for the transition into work whilst they were still in prison and they have received mentoring during their apprenticeship.
Rev Fiona Sample, who chairs the charity and is one of its trustees, came up with the idea after speaking to hundreds of young offenders at what was then HMP Castington in her role as Chaplain to the High Sheriff of Northumberland and then as High Sheriff.
“They all said getting a job was key to keeping them out of prison and so I looked into what could be done to support them,” she said.
“Prison costs a fortune, creates more crime and compounds the problem, so I believe it’s vital to give ex-offenders a second chance by helping to put them on the path to employment.
“We do appreciate that the Oswin Project may be considered controversial given the difficulty for so many people to find work, but it will provide both social and economic benefits to our communities by reducing the cycle of re-offending.
“We know that this is not appropriate for all prisoners and the ones chosen are very carefully selected.
“I’m delighted with the support I’ve received so far and there is a great team of trustees who are ready to take things forward.”
Its other partners are Northumberland County Council, Norcare Ltd and Aquila Way, which helps former prisoners find accommodation among other services.
The apprentices for the scheme in Pegswood are being employed by TCUK Property Services – a company set up by homeless charity The Cyrenians.
They include James McBurnie, who has been doing some plastering, joinery and painting in the property owned by Welbeck Estates.
He said: “I was approached by Ed Greenfield of Aquila Way about this opportunity and it’s worked out great because I now have another three-month contract with TCUK once I’ve finished here.
“I had alcohol and drugs issues, which led to crime, but I wanted to turn my life around and since I’ve been out I’ve had the right kind of help to get accommodation and a job.
“It has made a huge difference as it has given me the confidence to move on from the past.”