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Leeds Rhinos

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Leeds Rhinos Foundation’s ‘Onside’ project helping to support communities and tackle issue of re-offending

21st June 2017 | 12:00 am

By Leeds Rhinos

Leeds Rhinos Foundation is helping support communities through its new ‘Onside’ project in two local prisons by preparing offenders for release to tackle the issue of re-offending.

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Leeds Rhinos Foundation is helping support communities through its new ‘Onside’ project in two local prisons by preparing offenders for release to tackle the issue of re-offending.

‘Onside’ is a nine-week programme run by Leeds Rhinos Foundation, with the aim to reduce the rates of re-offending.  Following a successful pilot scheme at HMP Leeds, the charity was asked to take the course into HMP Wealstun and there are now further plans to offer ‘Onside’ in other prisons.

The course is led by Leeds Rhinos Foundation Project Tutor, Janet Sylvester, and combines classroom based work and physical activity sessions aimed at helping the offenders find work upon their release. 

“We aim to make the sessions interactive and fun and I think this is why we have had such a good response,” Janet said.  “Everyone on the course has different levels of education and literacy so we have put together a programme that is accessible for everyone. A formal education setting doesn’t suit everybody so we have tried to be creative with each session and approach things in a different way.

“There is a practical element to the course and we go through CV writing and interview skills to prepare them for their job search, but we also do activities to encourage discussion, looking at issues such as barriers and stereotyping, aspirations and goal setting, responsibility, motivation and respect.  There is a good rapport between the members of the group and every session they have been open and engaged in discussions and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The physical element has been a great opportunity for them to access team sport and be active. We have been able to transfer skills from the classroom into the gym such as communication, teamwork and problem solving. We have also been supported on the course by Rhinos first team players Brett Delaney and Keith Galloway.”
Members attending ‘Onside’ are generally young offenders with less than six months to serve on their sentence and who have shown a desire to make changes in their lives.

Police IOM team at HMP Wealstun, Anne Collinson, said: “This has been quite a unique course for us to offer but I have been really pleased with the response and I’ve had lots of enquiries about getting on the next course because the feedback has been so positive.

“We want to see less cases of reoffending, so it is important we do all we can to equip inmates with skills that will help them make better choices and increase their chances of gaining employment when they are released.  This benefits the individual as well as the community as we hope courses like this will contribute to reducing crime, with fewer released prisoners turning back to crime.”

One prisoner who completed the programme said he had been surprised at how much he had taken from the course.

“When I first heard about the ‘Onside’ project I wasn’t really sure what to expect but it’s been great and I have learned a lot.  It has helped me to put my CV together and even improve my vocabulary.  When you are in prison you get used to talking in a certain way and there is almost a different language, so this course has helped me to express myself and improve my communication skills.

“I had never really played rugby before, but I have enjoyed it and it’s good to end the session with something physical. You have a lot of time in prison to think about your decisions and what has brought you to where you are and I know that when I go out I want to make positive changes to my life and not end up back here. This course makes you think a lot about what motivates you and how you can make better choices and it’s been really worthwhile attending.”

The feedback from other prisoners on the course has been that it has helped them to appreciate there are opportunities for them following their release.

“Some of the discussions we have had have really made me think.  Before you are released there are some nerves about what will happen, but this course has helped me to realise that people do give second chances and there could be a new start for me.  I’ve also learned about how people interpret things differently and to appreciate different points of view.  The classes and different activities have shown us how to work better in a team, how to listen and give instructions and I hope these skills will help me in the future.”

Following their release Leeds Rhinos Foundation will work with its partners to offer potential volunteering and employment opportunities.

“Through this course new pathways and opportunities are being researched by ourselves to help provide a new start for the offenders once they have been released,” Janet added. 

“Quite a few of the lads we have worked with have a rugby background and we have offered to have some of them come and do some volunteering work with Leeds Rhinos Foundation following their release and more will be completing some of the other education courses we offer.”

Wealstun Governor Diane Pellew said: “I am really pleased with the progress the prisoners have made on this initiative and I appreciate Janet’s work with the lads.

“I believe interactive courses such as this really help to rehabilitate offenders, giving them more self-confidence and increased self-esteem.”

For more information on the Onside programme visit janet.sylvester@leedsrhinosfoundation.org