An innovative project to help offenders adjust to life after leaving Armley Jail is proving a big success.
The New Wortley Offender Support Team was only established in July, but it’s already helped more than 50 men leaving prison by offering them immediate support to get their lives back on track.
Based at New Wortley Community Centre, project workers meet the men at the gates of HMP Leeds and helps them find accommodation, training and work.
It’s a project which is dramatically cutting down the number of people reoffending cut to just two, with one sent back to prison.
Project manager Ken Denton, 51, described those figures as ‘remarkable,. Ken, who lives in New Wortley, is ideally placed to understand the issues men leaving prison face – he left Armley after serving almost 16 years last summer. He said:
“The project’s still in its infancy but it’s growing faster then we dreamed it would.
“We pick them up at the gate and help them find a place to live, employment or volunteering. Witghout the support there’s a chance they might reoffend. It gives them a chance to get back on their feet and restart their life after they’ve served their time.
“Because we understand what they’ve been through, we can talk to them at their level. We have that experience so we can help them more.”
Ken started volunteering at New Wortley Community Centre last year when he left prison. Bill Graham, lead worker at the centre, said Ken’s achievements were ‘incredible’. He said:
“Ken had an idea of how a ‘through the gate’ project like this should work. He was tenacious enough to go for it and make it work, which is an amazing story in itself.”
Some of the volunteers find themselves following in Ken’s footsteps and volunteering at New Wortley Community Centre, particularly in the new bike library which offers bicycles to hire for free or buy at a reduced price.
Ken has even met senior government officials and former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove in Westminster to talk about the project.