Since 2012 the Oswin Project has helped people with criminal records to find employment, training and support in the North East of England. Alongside individual mentoring, the team provides volunteering opportunities, paid work experience, as well as CV and disclosure assistance.
The prison population are marked by disadvantage. Prison and sentencing often lead to further disadvantage; around one-third of British prisoners lose their housing, two-thirds lose their job, over a fifth face increased financial problems and over two-fifths lose contact with their family (Barlow and Maruna, 2012). Within this context, education and training have become key strategies in the effort to reduce re-offending.
Based in Bothal, Northumberland, Oswin Project aims to break the cycle of re-offending through the provision of training and employment support. The team also support Oswinners (prison leavers) with tailored mentoring and supervision, focusing on softer skills such as building confidence and heightening aspirations. They have established a range of successful employment initiatives in areas where there are skills shortages in the region. Employment opportunities include painting and decorating, farm picking, and landscaping and maintenance.
Oswin have given me hope again, given me a reason to sort of, carry on again, a new direction… It’s just good to know they are there.
With support from the Foundation, the Oswin team expanded their work by opening Café 16, a prisoner operated café and bakery in HMP Northumberland. Café 16 supports Oswinners who are still in prison to learn how to bake goods, undergo barista training and many other skills; from hospitality skills such as food safety through to completing an NVQ level 3 or equivalent in craft bakery. The model seeks to provide quality work experience, in order to ease the transition into work on release from prison.
Oswin were the ones who stuck their neck out for me, gave me a chance when a lot of people wouldn’t, from day one they gave me that chance.
Building on the success of the original Café 16, the Oswin team launched a second Café 16 at Newcastle Cathedral. This initiative seeks to bridge the employment gap on release from prison, supporting people to find better lives away from offending. Baked goods are produced in the bakery at HMP Northumberland, and all profits will help support the charity’s work. The Foundation provided support towards the salaries of two Oswinners who are employed at the Cathedral café, and continues to work with the team as they develop this model further.
A secondary aim for the café model is to create additional, unrestricted income for the charity and a longer-term aim is for Café 16 (HMP Northumberland) to be a replicable model that could be launched in other prisons. Recognising the challenging external circumstances - with high inflation and cost of living pressures, and the impact of this on running a viable café that also delivers social impact, further support from the Foundation was provided towards the Café and Bakery Manager’s salary, who teaches and mentors prisoners on site. This role is key in delivering social impact, which is at the core of this project.