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21 January 2013

Restart gives ex-offenders a fresh start

Restart gives ex-offenders a fresh start

Imagine that you are an ex-offender. You have served time in prison for the crimes that you committed. Having left the prison, you now find yourself back in the wider world. How do you begin to rebuild your life? Where do you start?

Earlier this month the Saltbox Christian Centre relaunched Restart, previously known as the North Staffs Community Chaplaincy Project, with the aim of helping ex-offenders to break the crime habit, and to support them as they adapt to life outside of prison. Along with its new name, Restart relaunched with a new website and new office premises, opened by Stoke North Labour MP Joan Walley, in January 2013. Based in Stoke-on-Trent, Restart provides a range of services to help ex-offenders to "deal with life's challenges while looking forward to a positive future", including supported accommodation to help ex-offenders achieve and maintain independent living; individually-tailored training, volunteering and work placement opportunities; and support to reconnect with family relationships whilst reintegrating into community life.

In 2012, the 12-strong Restart team provided these services to more than 250 men and women, with the average client staying with Restart for 210 days. The majority of these ex-offenders have complex needs, with issues including significant drug and alcohol usage. Andy Boyle, manager of Restart, admitted that: "Helping ex-offenders is never easy and certainly requires a 'tough-love' approach. However, the reward is seeing clients start to get their lives on the straight and narrow."

The results that have been generated by the project are testament to this ethos. Restart is one of the few services that provides support to ex-offenders who are designated as 'prolific and persistent' when they leave prison. The national reconviction rate for prolific ex-offenders is 75 per cent, but the reconviction rate for Restart's prolific clients is less than 30 per cent. Lloyd Cooke, the chief executive of Saltbox, commented on the impact of the project, stating: "Restart represents a highly successful service which is making a significant contribution to helping local people break the crime habit. Only this week, the government identified that reducing offending requires new partnership working with the voluntary sector – we believe that Restart is exactly the sort of voluntary sector organisation to do this."

In 2012 the Evangelical Alliance partnered with Inspire magazine for a second year to produce the Inspire Awards, which celebrates inspiring Christians who are good news within their communities. The awards gave formal recognition to the success of the Restart project, which was shortlisted within the Inspiring Project category.

Chief Inspector Simon Tweats of Staffordshire Police has affirmed Restart's contribution within the Stoke community, explaining that: "Restart plays an integral part in helping ex-offenders rebuild their lives, taking them out of a life of crime and making our communities safer places to work and live." By providing its clients with a starting point from which to rebuild their lives, Restart is truly helping ex-offenders to make a fresh start.

Visit www.saltbox.org.uk/restart to find out more about Saltbox and the Restart project.