It is amazing what can be achieved in a room the size of a broom cupboard – just ask Sue Hunt and her colleague Barbara Murray, writes Anabel Unity Sale. The senior support worker and Kent area manager for St Giles Trust, a charity dealing with offenders and disadvantaged people, work from a tiny room in the community support centre in Maidstone, Kent.
From their bright yellow office, the pair – alongside two part-time support workers – deliver the innovative Children and Families Enterprise (Café) Project, a floating support service for offenders serving community sentences in parts of Kent. Individuals are referred to the service by Kent probation service and the service is targeted at both them and their families.
First established in the grounds of a church in south London in 1962, St Giles Trust initially worked with homeless people. Now the charity employs 100 staff across the south of England and helps 15,000 socially disadvantaged people a year.
The Café Project is just one of the initiatives that Murray believes fills gaps left by social services. “A lot of our families do not reach the eligibility level for social services but need social services-type help,” Murray explains. “We step in; we are preventive. In my mind, we are the cement between all the circles of services.”
The idea behind the Café Project was first mooted in the summer of 2006. Evan Jones, a previous manager at the trust, had run a similar family support service for offenders in London. When he told the Kent probation service about the initiative they jumped at the chance to be involved in a comparable scheme.
Since its launch in October 2006, the Café Project has helped 73 clients and their families with a variety of issues, including poor accommodation, domestic violence, benefit applications, school attendance, court appearances, and other important appointments.
Kerry Naidoo, a 34-year-old mother of two, was referred to the Café Project by her probation officer in November 2006, two months into her 18-month community sentence order for common assault. Naidoo admits that initially she was very unsure what to expect.
“I was really nervous about what the Café Project did. When I first met Sue, I thought she was there to interfere and be nosey. But after a couple of meetings I knew she wasn’t because she’s so nice and laid back. She’s been unbelievable with me; she’s done so well.”
Among other things, Hunt helped Naidoo attend various appointments, providing support that was not available from her probation officer. “Probation see you for 20 minutes a week and that’s it; that’s your rehabilitation done,” says Naidoo. “I couldn’t ring up my probation officer and say ‘I’ve had a bad day, can you help?’. But now I can ring Sue and she talks to me and comes round the next day if I need her to.”
It is the beauty of this flexible approach to work with clients that Murray says has led to the scheme’s success. The Café Project is able to take the strain off the probation service by tackling issues not directly linked to rehabilitation but that nonetheless help prevent reoffending. “The reoffending rate overall is around 50%,” says Murray. “But for people in our project it’s 15% and we are very proud of that.”
Hunt, who has worked in social care for 20 years, says the approach also allows her to work with clients in ways she was previously unable to. She has the time, for example, to take a young pregnant client to the supermarket and help her plan her healthy meals.
“This project is exciting because we provide a holistic service,” she says. “I can look at a person’s housing needs, play with their kids, and also show them what five fruit and veg a day are.”
For more information, contact the St Giles Trust on 020 7703 7000.
Tips on working with offenders serving community sentences: