Riverside’s Gate Buddies service has been short-listed for the UK Housing Awards 2015 in the category of ‘Meeting specialist housing needs’.
Gate Buddies is based on the highly successful Street Buddies programme of peer-led services, which has achieved strong outcomes with entrenched homeless people. It adapts the programme to those at risk of re-offending, as well as homelessness, on release from prison.
The service, begun last year in Greater Manchester, bridges the gap between prison and successful resettlement. It was set up using funding from the government’s Homeless Transition Fund with Homeless Link, and Church Housing Trust.
Having already provided housing advice and support to Manchester prison, Riverside saw its resettlement services as a way to work with ex-offenders on their release. It has successfully established Gate Buddies services in four prisons in Manchester, Warrington and Cheshire.
25 ex-offenders, who had successfully integrated back into the community and wanted to give something back, were recruited as Gate Buddies. Volunteers, who have experienced what other ex-offenders have been through, commit to a three month placement and are trained as mentors.
After training, they are matched with a detainee. The prison will identify vulnerable prisoners who are due for release within the next three months, and a Gate Buddy volunteer will meet them on release day.
They will be a mentor and advisor over the coming months, ensuring the ex-prisoner has access to a range of personal, therapeutic, financial and training advice. Finally, the ex-detainee is referred back to the Gate Buddies team for a full needs assessment.
“With a Gate Buddy you get support from someone who’s been there, been in prison and understands what you’re going through. When you come out of prison a Buddy will act as your advocate and be on your side. Together they’ll help you find a place to stay, the right services and put in place what you need so you don’t end up back in prison.”
Gate Buddies Trainee Project Assistant, former prisoner Ken
Gate Buddies provides not just housing advice, but the opportunity to turn experience into paid employment. Those who join the team can receive comprehensive training on a number of relevant skills, such as safeguarding vulnerable adults, professional boundaries, case load planning and project managing, mentoring, addiction awareness and support, use of IT systems, self-esteem, and setting personal goals.
“My criminal record made returning to work really difficult; then I saw an advert asking for Gate Buddies volunteers. I understand what the social stigma of having a record feels like and I think my story can be a powerful message. As a Gate Buddy I can talk to people on their level.”
Gate Buddies volunteer Alena
So far, two former Gate Buddies have gone on to paid GROW (Giving Real Opportunities for Work) trainee posts with ex-offender teams. Compared to the national average of 50%, only 6% of those who take part in Gate Buddies have gone on to re-offend.
According to the Prison Reform Trust, almost 75% of ex-offenders cannot find employment when they leave prison. Those who face being homeless on release are also 30% more likely return to prison. Within Gate Buddies, 75% of those who have taken part are now in employment or training.
Gate Buddies Volunteer Coordinator, Layla Allen, said: “If someone has been in prison and has successfully come through the other side we believe that they have become incredibly valuable ‘experts by experience’ who can assist other ex-prisoners to put their lives back together as they provide positive and aspirational role models.”
View the full short-list for the 2015 UK Housing Awards here.