The Oswin Project at Newcastle Cathedral

First published on: 24th February 2022

By Revd Fiona Sample, CEO of the Oswin Project

In a debate in the House of Commons on 20 July 1910 Winston Churchill said: “The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilization of any country.”

Currently, England is failing that test. We hold the unenviable record of having more individuals in prison than any other country in Europe and numbers are increasing - despite a slight drop due to the pandemic. Building new prisons is not the answer. Giving training and employment opportunities is.

The Oswin Project was founded, as our strap line indicates, to give second chances to those who have been in prison.

We are always asked about our name. Oswin was the lesser-known half-brother of King Oswald of Northumbria. If the Venerable Bede’s writings are to be believed, Oswin ‘loved justice above all things and spoke to prince and pauper in the same manner’.

The Oswin Project is slightly different from other organisations because our care is holistic. We build a bridge of opportunity between prison and outside, and are happy to get involved in almost anything that gives our clients, who we call Oswinners, second chances – as long as it’s legal!

To start an Oswinners journey we run a bakery and cafe in HMP Northumberland. The goods baked there supply Café 16 in Newcastle Cathedral and ‘graduates’ from prison have the opportunity of a placement there.

We also have our flourishing ‘Inside and Out’ team, which decorates and maintains gardens/landscapes.   Mentoring and supporting our Oswinners and employees alike is key to our success.

We have calculated that for every ten Oswinners who do not re-offend (and it is a rarity) we save the public purse - in effect you, the taxpayer - £1 million. Opportunity through training, volunteering and employment gives confidence and self-esteem.

On BBC Radio 4 a presenter recently asked those fulfilled and happy in their work to ring in. I would have if I could have, and suspect most of my colleagues would have joined me. This is because there is absolutely nothing better than playing a small part in giving someone a future, transforming their lives, seeing them stand tall and seeing the impact on their family and the ripple that spreads out to communities and beyond.

Why should you be interested in our work? Leaving aside the estimated 200,000 children with a parent in prison, the huge cost to society and the £18.1 billion to the economy, the ever-growing prison population shows that locking people up simply does not stop crime (though I admit some individuals must be imprisoned to keep us all safe).

In a post-Brexit and post-Covid Britain, many areas need a workforce and prisoners need jobs. It is a simple equation, and everyone is a winner. Highstreet names such as Timpson, Greggs and Halfords benefit every day by recruiting ex-offenders. Giving somebody a second chance instils loyalty and commitment.

To succeed in our aims, we must change perceptions. We are holding a conference on Wednesday 2 March in Newcastle Cathedral with this theme. A panel of people who have experienced the transition from prison to work are guiding the day; speakers include the inspiration behind Project ReMake Kameel Khan, National Recruitment Ambassador for Timpson Darren Burns, Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuiness, New Futures Networks’ Lance Harris, Deputy Director of HMP Northumberland Lindsay Blackmore, and CEO of the North East Chamber of Commerce John McCabe CEO.

I hope you might be able to join us! Tickets and more details are available on our website.

The retiring CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform felt she had seen little change during her tenure. Reflecting on this she said if a Victorian returned to Britain in 2021 (when she retired) they would recognise most of the prisons but would be shocked at the lack of purposeful activity. It is time to bring about change.

Powered by Church Edit