An article by Helen Collins, John Graham, Lindy Madgin-Ellison, Val Docherty and North Durham Peer Mentors and service users.
As a solution to ever-decreasing staff numbers in the Durham Tees Valley Probation Trust (DTVPT) in 2011, the Citizenship Programme was developed. Research (see above) had shown the programme to be effective in reducing reoffending. Once the programme was completed, those assessed as suitable were passed to the newly formed Community Supervision Service (CSS). Suitability was defined by risk levels and complexity of need, the premise being that the majority of the old Tier 2 and 3 cases would transition to the CSS on completion of the relevant Citizenship modules.
The CSS was run by existing members of staff who would deliver the second part of the service user’s supervision. This would be a more forward-looking approach based on desistance principles such as: integrating offenders into their local community; providing opportunities for change and focussing on individual strengths. Delivery would involve a greater use of volunteers and increased involvement of partnership agencies.
Gallant projects arose from a need to delivery services to large numbers of service users while providing these opportunities. The name derives from a long-serving staff member and was chosen so as not to link to offenders or offending – again utilising desistance principles. The projects were led by PSO staff with, initially, one middle manager providing oversight and direction in 12 locations throughout the trust. The broad idea was that CSS staff would instruct 30-40 service users to report during a two-hour slot where agencies would be available to assist with problems such as housing or employment.
The Gallant projects quickly developed a life of their own and grew rapidly, particularly where staff enjoyed additional responsibility. The sites required a large communal space and facilities to provide refreshments. CSS staff began identifying and negotiating the use of community buildings and recruited agencies who could provide support and assistance or help to link offenders into their local communities. In addition to the more traditional types of support around housing and employment, other agencies were brought in.
For example, Health Trainers were introduced to improve access to GPs and provide advice on matters such as stopping smoking. In another initiative, co-ordinators were invited from local volunteer bureaux, enabling service users to volunteer in their communities. The agencies attending Gallants did so free of charge and a frequent selling point for them was being able to meet some of the harder to reach clients, upon whom their funding was partially or wholly dependent, in one location.
Due to the large numbers attending, face-to-face work was primarily undertaken by volunteers and other agencies attending. The Trust needed to recruit and train large numbers of volunteers to support the Gallant and, as a legacy of this, the current CRC currently has upwards of 140 active volunteers. The projects aimed to provide a welcoming atmosphere, a place with a bit of a buzz where offenders felt comfortable and did not just drop in. Frequently comfortable seating areas were available with newspapers and refreshments available for those waiting. CSS staff undertook desistance training to enable them to develop projects with a forward-looking ethos.
The projects continued to develop to include the use of peer mentors, social action projects and activities. The use of volunteers was viewed with suspicion by some staff who felt their roles were under threat from free labour. The use of Peer Mentors caused further concern and their introduction was phased over a period of time, and in some locations is still to be introduced. Whilst some staff may have had concerns, the positive impact of peer mentors has been apparent. The belief and hope that some service users develop upon realising that the person they are talking to has recently been in the same situation is again linked closely to desistance theories.
By mid-2013 the Gallants were providing supervision to over half of the DTVPT caseload. Qualitative and quantitative research was undertaken yielding encouraging results. A sample of service users who attended Gallant and a sample of those who did not were matched, with the result that the Gallant attendees committed, on average, two less offences per person in the follow-up period. The qualitative research showed an increased sense of self-determination and increased level of willingness to undertake activities that developed and supported others. The questionnaires completed by Gallant attendees also showed that they felt that they were treated with respect and were able to shed the criminal or offender label when attending.
The research concluded that it was the marrying of cognitive behavioural methods and the desistance principles so evident in Gallant that was successful in reducing reoffending.
Gallant: What service users and staff said…
Ruby (service user)
When I got out from Low Newton, I was fragile, no confidence, and no hope. My Probation Officer is very helpful. She introduced me to the Gallant Project. In there I met a lot of organisations who help me find my feet and sort my life. I go there every two weeks and meet my peer mentor. I was introduced to the organisation Changing Lives who help me with my career. Foundation Trust have helped me to find accommodation and helped me to apply for housing benefit. I couldn’t thank Gallant enough for the help they gave me.
Kevin (service user)
I have been attending Gallant sessions for approximately one year. To begin with I attended as part of my probation order. It has proven to be of enormous benefit to me, not only from the point of view of a service-user, but also from my perspective as a peer mentor. As well as offering a range of practical help such as assisting with employment and benefits issues, they also provided me with a place where I could talk. To me the latter was of supreme importance as I was afforded the opportunity to discuss delicate matters which may otherwise have been ignored. I discovered an attitude for listening as well as talking, and once my order came to end, I trained as a peer mentor. During my time as a peer mentor I have realised at first hand on multiple occasions the excellent work they carry out at a Gallant projects. Most importantly I feel, the service users have engaged with Gallant sessions in a positive and constructive way – a mixture of highly trained and motivated staff and volunteers offer a first rate service which I recommend without hesitation.
It is hoped that Gallant will have an impact on reducing reoffending and contribute positively to local communities by helping service-users reintegrate into their community. Gallant brings partnership agencies together under one roof, providing an holistic approach to supervision, allowing responsivity to individual needs. This is aided by the use of volunteer and peer mentor support, who bring to the Gallant a diverse knowledge allowing understanding and assisting service users to achieve desistance. Volunteers and Peer Mentors can offer the time and support to individuals that staff may not be able to offer.