High Sheriff of West Sussex, Dr Tim Fooks, learns how the Wiston Estate is helping ex-offenders
The High Sheriff of West Sussex, Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing, meets an ex-offender who has turned his life around and learns how he is helping the charity Making it Out renovate a barn on the Wiston Estate, near Steyning.
Based on UK Government data in 2019, approximately one in three offenders released from custody will go on to re-offend, and this rate doubles among those whose sentence has been for less than one year.
Becoming entrapped in the ‘offending cycle’ is all too easy. For many, their greatest challenge is not the time spent in custody but once they leave prison. The standard Prison Discharge Grant of £46 does not take them, or anyone, very far, and access to the preventative influences of meaningful relationships, secure accommodation and long-term employment may seem far off.
Without support, the path from the prison gate can all too easily lead them straight back inside.
Importantly, however, there is clear evidence that shows the cycle-breaking effects of the specialist organisations, often from the charitable sector, which work with prison staff and probation services to help residents to prepare for discharge and, crucially, support them beyond their time in jail.
The impact of these organisations can be transformative and recently I was fortunate to be introduced to Jay, whose own story makes a compelling case for their work.
Despite being a talented joiner and roofer, with a particular interest in the preservation of heritage buildings, Jay developed a serious addiction to cocaine when he was a young man. Relentlessly, his addiction destroyed his family relationships and business prospects and led him into a life of crime. Ultimately, in 2018, this resulted in a 14-month prison sentence.
However, while in HMP Lewes, Jay sought help with his addiction from the Forward Trust and, thankfully, he has now been in recovery for nearly three years. Following his release, he found accommodation and support through the charity Emmaus in Brighton, with whom Jay has continued to do well.
Now, returning to full-time work has become his main objective but finding the right option has proven to be difficult. However, when Jay moved to HMP Ford, the charity Sussex Pathways also started to support him and, after discharge, introduced Jay to the Portslade-based charity Making it Out (MiO). Since then, Jay has not looked back.
MiO was started by Mark Whaley and Lucy Grubb three years ago to enable ex-offenders to learn and develop creative skills which can lead them back into employment.
As Mark explained to me, their idea is to use creative activities themselves to create a community within which these vulnerable people can find a sense of belonging and family, but also redefine themselves – no longer an ‘ex-offender’ but now ‘an artist’, ‘a blacksmith’, ‘a joiner’.
To achieve this, MiO provides a variety of options, such as participating in a team project refurbishing a shop interior, or to work alone in the charity’s workshop or art studio. Mark and Lucy have already seen some amazing talents flourish, with several members becoming full-time professional artists.
Recently, the Wiston Estate, near Steyning, offered the charity a Sussex flintstone barn to use as a workshop and meeting centre – but only if they could mend the roof. This was a very welcome but unexpected and new challenge for charity, then just the right time, Jay walked through their door.
Now, working with MiO staff such as Ricky and other members, Jay’s skills are being put to wonderful use. And, as I spoke to him and watched him work, it was obvious that this project was not just repairing the roof but was helping to repair Jay, too.
By the end of the summer, this ancient barn will be ready to house a forge, a workshop and a meeting place, thereby extending Making it Out’s transformative work into the beautiful countryside of West Sussex. It will represent a new era for the barn and, I hope, for Jay, and others like him, as well.