Manchester’s Unsung Heroes: Youth worker devotes life to ex-offenders through revolutionary scheme

By Mark Shales

Spending time in prison may be a powerful deterrent for most but as one in four prisoners re-offend upon release some may question whether the system offers a road to recover for criminals.

But one Manchester charity worker is trying to revolutionise the concept of post-prison care by mentoring young offenders and ensuring the transition from prison to employment is as smooth and stable as possible.

Matty Hawthorne, 30, has worked for Christian youth project The Message Trust for the last 13 years, spending a decade of that time working in some of Manchester’s toughest prisons.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing someone who’s completely broken, get their life fixed,” he said.

“When you love what you do and when you’re involved in real people’s lives you can’t just turn your phone off and forget about things.

“It’s something you learn when you’re working with chaotic lives and people who’ve got layers of dysfunction that it’s a long-term process and you can’t always solve things overnight.

“Some weeks I’ll work seven days, others I’ll makes sure I have a day or two off.”

Based at the newly-launched Message Enterprise Centre (MEC) in Wythenshawe, Matty mentors ex-offenders and help them re- integrate into society through employment in its café, beauty parlour and bicycle repair shop.

Matty insists that the process grows exponentially as those impacted by the trust, begin to impact on others around them.

“I think the proof of what the Message does is where you see people who were the cause of a lot of trouble in society, actually turning out to be the answer,” he added.

“Some of the guys were dealing the drugs and committing crimes but are now helping others who were in the same position to change.

“It’s never just one life that changes, it always overflows into other people. We’ve seen people who’ve had siblings in the Message coming to church, and families brought back together.

“People who’ve not seen their kids for years get back in touch and become great mums and dads. It really is restitution and reconciliation that’s happening.”

Raised in rural Shropshire, Matty moved to Wythenshawe at the age of 17 to become a youth worker in the notorious Benchill estate – at the time the poorest council ward in the UK.

He moved into prison work while still just a teenager but despite the incredible challenges such a move presented, Matty has no regrets.

“It was a big jump but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he explained.

“The reception on the whole is fantastic in the prisons. It’s quite long-term work so you build up a great relationship with the offenders in there.

“A lot of people expect it to be quite a daunting environment and there to be a lot of pressure against you.

“But most of the prisoners really appreciate the time you’ve got for them and the opportunities you can give them.

Matty has witnessed remarkable transformations across a great many people’s lives through his work and gives Gary as an example.

“He’d been one of the most notorious criminals in terms of street crime, burglaries and theft,” he said.

“He’d come from a pretty hard background in Clayton, and done more than 12 years jail time on and off.

“When he got out we got him a place to live and a lot of support, and a few months later he became our first apprentice at the MEC.

“This guy had never had a job before that and although he’s had his ups and downs he’s never missed a day at work.

“He’s got a mentor who’s working hard and he’s actually influencing a lot of people for good. He’s someone that’s really changed the lives of others.

“He’s a taxpayer, he’s a volunteer who helps out other addicts and homeless people and he’s got a big vision for his own future as well.”

As well as his work with the Message, he launched a new church last October called Ivy Sharston, an off-shoot of large south Manchester-based church Ivy Manchester.

Describing it as a ‘church for people who don’t do church’, its vision is to offer a path to faith for those society finds it hard to accept.

“For years I was seeing guys really wanting to get stuck into church,” he said.

“But some places were a bit too religiously stuck-up to deal with these guys who are a bit rough around the edges.

“Ivy Manchester has a real vision to work with the least in society and the forgotten people so they do a lot of work with addicts, homeless people and ex-offenders.

“Ivy Sharston fits in perfectly with their vision to reach out to the community.”

To find out more about the Message Trust visit

Picture courtesy of Lucy West, The Message Trust, with thanks

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