The United Together Project is delivered across Lancashire in partnership with The Probation Service, the Football Community Trust, Active Lancashire and the Challenge through Sport Initiative (CSI). It helps people to improve their skills and employment prospects, build confidence and community engagement to help prevent re-offending through the power of sport.
People in contact with the criminal justice system are likely to experience significant health inequalities. There are strong links between offending behaviour and a higher prevalence of complex health and social needs, low levels of help-seeking behaviours, and an increased risk of premature death.
On release from prison, many ex-offenders face a range of barriers to reintegrating back into the community, such as stigma, substance misuse, social isolation, and a lack of access to housing and employment. These negatively impact on both physical and mental health, and often lead to an increased chance of re-offending.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) recognises the need to develop and deliver effective interventions which improve the life chances of people leaving prison and address health inequalities for this population4. These are likely to be multi-faceted and involve a range of organisations.
United Together5 is a unique initiative that uses a holistic approach to engaging with prison leavers to support them to overcome the barriers they are faced with on release from prison (e.g. social isolation, difficulties securing accommodation and employment), reduce chances of re-offending, and enable them to re-establish their place in the community. The delivery model used involved the following organisations working together in partnership to provide rounded support for prison leavers.
Who is involved
- Active Lancashire (lead the project)
- CSI Programme
- MPT Programme
- Burnley FC in the Community
- Accrington Stanley Community Trust
- Blackburn Rovers Football Club Community Trust
- Preston North End Community and Education Trust
- Morecambe Football Club Community Trust
- Blackpool Football Club Community Trust
- Fleetwood Football Club Community Trust
The project involves peer mentors, with lived experience of the criminal justice system, meeting prison leavers from day one of release and developing a personalised action plan with them to support their reintegration into the community. Prison leavers are supported to access a range of sport and physical activity sessions run by the Community Football Trusts involved, and are signposted to other targeted support, including housing, substance addiction recovery, training and employment.
The project has been running since 2019. United Together has received positive feedback from participants and has demonstrated success in improving wellbeing, increasing levels of physical activity and reducing re-offending. Active Lancashire, an ARC NWC member organisation, were interested in understanding more about what had influenced the projects successes, and what could improve the delivery model and the partnerships involved.
What did we find out?
Peer Mentors lived experience and their ability to engage with prison leavers was viewed as a vital element of the project. Partner representatives felt that the involvement of the football clubs was appealing to the project’s participants. Taking part in physical activity sessions was seen as a way of reducing re-offending as it offered prison leavers structure to their free time, social support, and a sense of belonging.
All partner representatives felt that the partnership was made up of the right organisations and possessed the relevant skill mix to deliver effective services to prison leavers. Partnership working was facilitated by effective and regular communication. It was suggested that developing clearer working agreements such as information sharing, risk assessments, and clarity of roles and service offers would improve the project going forward. Services were viewed as under-resourced, and that current funding was not sufficient to sustain the project longer-term.
What have we learnt and what next?
This research found that approaching the rehabilitation of ex-offenders through a combination of peer mentoring and physical activity, supported by partnership working and signposting, is viewed positively by those managing and delivering services. Addressing the barriers identified and maintaining what is working well as identified in the table above could improve the delivery of the project.
Active Lancashire is now working closely with the North West Probation Service, a combined service which unified the CRC and National Probation Service. Limited funding has been secured to allow the partnership to continue working together and respond to the findings of the research conducted by ARC NWC.
The programme has been so successful it was included in the NW Reoffending Plan as an project to keep. Reducing Reoffending Plan - North West
Links to the final evaluation report produced by ARC NWC’s Equitable Place-based Health and Care (EPHC) and Implementation and Capacity Building (IMPaCT) teams are below: