About The Welcome Directory

About The Welcome Directory

The Welcome Directory has a very focused mission: to help faith communities welcome and support people leaving prison and to enable people who are looking for a faith community to call home upon release to easily search for and find one.

As the work has developed three significant themes have emerged that describe what The Welcome Directory is doing.

A community

The Welcome Directory is gathering a community of people who want to be involved in a positive way in resettlement.  We connect prisons and those who work to help people resettle after a time in prison with faith communities who want to be welcome and supportive. We are helping to shape communities by providing good information and introducing powerful ideas about the impact that a good faith community can have upon people leaving prison. People who want to nurture their faith and find a community to call home. We are also bringing a variety of faith communities in a region together in prisons across England and Wales to meet one another and encouraging collaboration in the future.

A resettlement tool

The Welcome Directory is just that, a directory that lists faith communities in good standing who are prepared to welcome and support people leaving prison. Once launched, it will be a geographical online search tool that can be used by prison chaplains, resettlement agencies and charities as well as those people who have left prison to find Welcome Directory faith communities. It simply provides quality information about where faith communities can be found.

A movement

There are over 1000 third sector organisations working to help resettle people after a time of prison in England and Wales. Representing thousands of people dedicated to the work. The Welcome Directory supports that work by bringing about broad attitudinal change. It does this through the sessions which provide good information and an experience in prison meeting members of faith communities in the prison itself - people meeting people. Working with a few people from each faith community at a time we trust that a movement will grow; spreading through congregations and beyond them to business, schools, colleges, newspapers and magazines and beyond. In 10 years, thousands of people might have a renewed attitude towards people who used to be prisoners. We invite you to be part of that movement, to bring about a real, lasting and just change.

A charity

On 1st October 2016 The Welcome Directory launched as a charity. The story of how we arrived there is told below.

Origins

The Welcome Directory was inspired by a resettlement project in Singapore called the Yellow Ribbon. Employers signed up to make opportunities for people when they came out of prison if the employers themselves made a commitment to change. It has led to real changes in society including a willingness to "unlock the second prison" of the community so that there was more acceptance and support for people upon release. For inspiration check out http://www.yellowribbon.org.sg

The project was referred to in a speech by a former Prisons Minister, Crispin Blunt, at a lecture on Restorative Justice at Lambeth Palace and led to the idea of developing a network of "Yellow Ribbon" faith communities in England and Wales so that when people are released they can easily identify communities that would be welcoming. Each self-identified community, with the support and commitment of their faith community leadership, would ensure that they have in place:

  • people identified who have undergone some training to make them aware of the needs of people who have been in prison,
  • safeguarding policies in place,
  • and identified local resources that might be helpful to someone making the transition to life in the wider community.

The level of support imagined would not be a formal mentoring scheme, but rather organic support developed through awareness raising and attitudinal change within the particular faith community. This would be the role of a small group of committed and identifiable champions within that community. It was the aspiration of the original working group that many faith communities would sign up as Yellow Ribbon communities so that a person walking down a high street might see the Yellow Ribbon sign outside a Mosque, Church, Temple and Gurdwara and so recognise the common values shared by faith communities to support people as they resettle.

An initial exploratory group was established involving people from Community Chaplaincy projects, representatives from faith communities identified by NOMS Faith Advisors and the Head of NOMS Chaplaincy, and a focus group was held at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. The purpose of the focus group was to explore with people who have either gone through the experience of leaving prison, or were about to do so, what they would look for in such a "Yellow Ribbon" faith community in terms of their values and the sort of welcome and practical support that would be helpful so that they would feel truly "at home". 

Much as it would be nice to think that all faith communities would want to be "Yellow Ribbon" faith communities, the experience of people going out suggests that many places easily feel out of their depth with folk who have been imprisoned and cope by either rejecting them - in a "nice way", or making the person feel too visible at a time when they want to be able to gain the confidence of a few new friends.

After several meetings it was agreed that the next step forward would be to develop a Pilot Project in two areas; one being a London Metropolitan area and the other an area with strong faith diversity.

Development

Bob Wilson, The Free Churches Faith Advisor to NOMS drew up a plan to implement the pilot and secured the funding to develop the idea and run a limited pilot over the course of a year. In October 2014, Jonathan Green was appointed to coordinate the development of the work on a part time basis. Because there are a number of organisations in the UK that use Yellow Ribbons, it was agreed that The Welcome Directory was a good description of the aim of the work. To develop a directory of welcoming and supportive faith communities across England and Wales. Below is a summary of the progression of that initial year that was extended by another.

  • October 2014 was a time of planning and focusing the question of what could be achieved in a year.
  • Between November and January about 120 people provided input including prisoners, former prisoners, prison chaplains, prison staff, prison governors, criminologists and faith leaders. Their input led to some key insights that shaped the vision further and some central themes emerged which helped determine the next steps.
  • A diverse development team was formed and Jonathan and the team shaped three sessions that form the heart of The Welcome Directory process.
  • The three sessions were finished at the beginning of the Spring of 2015 and five prisons agreed to take part in the pilot.
  • Towards the end of the summer we had our first registration: The Quakers in Rugby!
  • Encouraged by the response, we learnt from the pilot, refined our processes and edited the sessions. In early 2016 we released the material and supporting resources to all managing chaplains across the prisons in England and Wales and invited them to develop the work in the coming year.
  • Recognising the potential of The Welcome Directory and encouraged by the early results, the Directors of the Free Churches Group extended the funding for a further year.
  • Recognising the opportunity to develop a distinctive work that had potential to grow into a national work which was supported by staff and volunteers, the directors of the Free Churches Group encouraged The Welcome Directory to become a charity in its own right. They promised six months of funding whilst a donor base could be developed.
  • On 1st October 2016, precisely two years after the development began formally the new charity had its administrative launch.
  • We are planning a big public launch once we have 100 faith communities registered. It will be a great celebration with balloons and cake!