Lots of questions get asked... here are our current responses to the most common ones.
What is The Welcome Directory?
The Welcome Directory is a fully searchable national directory of faith communities in good standing who are prepared to welcome and appropriately support people who have left or are leaving prison. It's like Google, but better.
How does it work?
Well, the directory will literally be a geographical search for a specific faith. So you will be able to search for a mosque in Bradford or a church in Luton and get a range of results. Clearly, we want thousands of faith communities to register over the coming years. But there is a process.
In order to make the process robust, we work with the multi faith chaplaincy teams in each prison. When the work is running at full capacity we expect each prison chaplaincy team to work with 15 new faith communities each year. That works out at 121 prisons x 15 faith communities each = 1815 new faith communities each year. With 3-4 people from each faith community, we are talking over 7000 people engaging every year. Add to that the many prisoners, volunteers, staff and chaplains involved too and that is a lot of people.
But to get there we have a lot of work to do! Please explore some of the ways you can help us achieve this goal.
I am a chaplain at a prison that hasn't yet established The Welcome Directory
We hope that what you have read so far has inspired you to talk with the managing chaplain about establishing the work at your prison. We know that prison chaplains have many demands on them and have made the process as easy as possible. We would love to talk to you about developing the work at your prison and offer you support. Please get in touch with Jonathan Green for more information.
Where exactly have you got to?
As of 1st October 2016, we have 6 faith communities registered with at least another 15 in the process of registration. The registration process is deliberately slow because we want whole communities to talk about whether they want to register to be a welcoming and supportive faith community for people leaving prison. Getting whole communities to explore the themes together is how we imagine broad attitudinal change actually takes place. It is deliberately slow work, but the result will be worth it.
Each managing chaplain received the process and sessions in February 2016. We know of 5 prisons who have ran a session in prison. We know of about 20 prisons who are developing their approach. As we recruit more staff and volunteers in the coming year we expect things to gather pace.
Why can't I search for faith communities yet?
The search facility will go live when we have about 500 registered faith communities! A national search of 6 communities or even 100 is not useful - so we are concentrating our efforts on getting a critical mass.
Does The Welcome Directory refer people leaving prison to specific faith communities?
We are very clear that The Welcome Directory is not a referral service! The directory will not recommend which means that there will be no preferential ranking. The directory will produce good information and people looking for a specific kind of faith community will be able to see a list of appropriate results based upon geography and faith tradition.
We are helping faith communities to think about how they welcome people who often find themselves marginalised and help them think about how they might provide appropriate support.
What do you mean appropriate support? Do you want a faith community to provide jobs and housing for instance?
By appropriate support, we mean, faith communities knowing how to work in relation with the resettlement pathways described by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). We do not envisage a faith community providing housing, but instead having a contact with official and properly resourced housing services whose job it is to ensure that people leaving prison are not homeless.
In the third session of the awareness course called What Next? We describe the seven pathways and help faith communities to know where to go and also encourage people who want to get involved in a deeper way in prisoner resettlement to work with the official services. Perhaps offering voluntary assistance to a local charity.
We want to encourage faith communities to explore for themselves what engagement looks like for them. We also encourage faith communities to form alliances and to encourage and support each other. We certainly do not seek to be prescriptive. We think that in the majority of circumstances, being a welcoming community is the most important thing and often exactly what is needed.
Can a faith community really make a positive difference?
Absolutely, research has shown that communities of faith can play a significant role in helping people who leave prison resettle upon release and help people to leave criminal behaviour in the past. On the other hand, it has also been shown that a negative experience in a faith community can contribute to reoffending behaviour.
Is The Welcome Directory a multi faith charity?
The Welcome Directory works with the multi faith prison chaplaincy teams across the country and work in the same way that NOMS does regarding faith. The Welcome Directory was initially funded by The Free Churches Group which represents 24 free church denominations and the charity retains key links in the form of three nominated trustees. From the beginning, people from a variety of faith traditions have been consulted and had input into the development process, including shaping the three sessions.
The board of trustees, once fully formed will have representation from a variety of faith traditions.
Working together across faith traditions in a prison context can be a great source of strength. Meeting and working together to help resettle people leaving prison in our diverse multi cultural and multi faith Britain is an important value for the charity.
However, when it comes to searching for a faith community in the directory, a person will be able to search for just Synagogues, Temples, Churches, Mosques and many others.
What about safeguarding?
Having a robust safeguarding policy in place as well as an active safeguarding culture is an essential requirement for any faith community that wants to be a Welcome Directory faith community. It is a non negotiable point.
If a faith community wants to be included in the directory then we want to encourage them to begin that journey by exploring what being a safe community looks like. Establishing safeguarding principles and culture doesn't need to be difficult. There are excellent resources available at www.safenetwork.org.uk
Once you have established your safeguarding culture, then begin the process of becoming a Welcome Directory faith community.