“When someone comes out of prison they’re very vulnerable. You need someone who cares.”
The Footprints Project is all about people who care.
Set up almost ten years ago, the organisation aims to turn around the lives of ex-offenders by helping them settle back into the community on their release from prison and reduce the risk of re-offending.
It works with people released from any prison in the country, who are coming back to Dorset or South Somerset, but is hoping to expand to Hampshire and Wiltshire in the near future.
Volunteers with the project, of which Dorset resident Kate Adie has just become patron, work with prisoners during their sentence, and then meet them at the gate on their release.
“We provide a housing officer for Guy’s Marsh, which ensures that everybody leaving Guy’s Marsh has accommodation,” explained Jane Barkes, the project’s manager.
“Some of the other prisons do have that, but Footprints has responded to the need by providing a housing officer there. That’s not just for Footprints’ clients, that’s for all of them.”
But it’s the time spent with ex-offenders on their release from prison which Footprints deems most vital.
“These clients are so determined that they want to change,” said Jane.
“They want to reverse all these habits that they’ve got. They want to see their children, their friends, they’re full of love and remorse.
“But as soon as they hit that gate, unless you’re there to meet them, they will revert back to what they know and what’s familiar.”
Footprints will sort out accommodation for ex-offenders, provide toiletries, a mobile phone, help them claim benefits, set them up with a GP and even put them in touch with drug and alcohol support groups.
Volunteers will often see a client four or five times in the first week, then will gradually see them less and less until they feel able to cope alone.
With many of the project’s clients having drug and alcohol problems, there is a high chance they will re-offend.
But Footprints aims to extend the length of time between prison sentences, before the penny drops.
“If you’re there to meet them and say ‘this is what we’ve got in place, I’m going to help you’, they can do it,” said Jane.
“We help people to help themselves. One of the ways to do that is by increasing their network of support. Some people like to have an AA sponsor, some people like to have a member of the church, some people have family, some people have a great friend.
“They need to have a network of people they can ring if they feel vulnerable, but before they get to the point where they feel they need to use.”
Footprints is now looking to raise significant funds for its expansion, and is also desperate to recruit more volunteers to drive the project, particularly female volunteers to work with female clients.
Finding reliable volunteers has always proved difficult for Footprints, as the work is not particularly consistent, so commitment – and patience – are vital.
“The clients need a lot of encouragement,” explained Jane, who insists volunteering is a hugely rewarding role.
“You see what people can do. If they turn round and say they want some help on their release and Footprints says no, then who are they going to go to?
“Because there is nothing else.
“As a charity we are in a position to say you’ve asked for help, we will give it to you. We will give them a chance, because somebody’s got to give them a chance.”
- To find out more about the Footprints Project, or to become a volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org