‘It’s ripped my heart out’: Ex cons’ despair as Manchester probation group has Government funding pulled

A group of ex-offenders are fearing for their futures as they stand to lose their beloved Manchester community probation group.

The HOPE (Hope Outside Prison Environments) Project, which supports ex-offenders in the community, has been funded by the Government for the past six months, having previously been funded by the NHS.

But the decision has now been made to end the project’s financial support, which currently has capacity for 20-30 clients, and it will finish at the end of April.

One HOPE client told MM: “I feel like my heart’s been ripped out. My life has been turned around by this project.

“Here you’re being treated like a human being. It has a real impact on your mental health.”

Clients stand to lose a tight-knit support network alongside activities like cooking classes and boxing which provide them with support, builds self-esteem and a routine unlike anything else on offer in Manchester.  

Another explained he feared his mental health would suffer without HOPE support.

“There’s nothing else like this with good role models and like-minded people,” he said.

“The support they give is above and beyond help I’ve ever had before. Without it I would be isolated.”

A weekly reading group currently takes place each Thursday for those who want to give shared reading a try.

Due to the cuts, HOPE’s partnership with The Reader, who run the group, will also end this month.

Session leader and Reader in Residence for Greater Manchester West NHS, Kate Hughes-Jenkins, told MM: “Losing this group is really hard. You get to know them well and develop relationships.

“It’s frustrating to know there currently isn’t anything we can offer instead.”

The reading group is just one part of HOPE’s holistic approach, which HOPE Project Manager Sue Casey believes is seldom used elsewhere in the probation service.

They also welcome back ex-clients who still struggle post-probation.

Ms Casey, told MM: “The Project gives people hope, belief.

“I’ve put my heart and soul into this project. Without Hope it’s almost like I have no hope. The project is a life saver.

“Offending is instant gratification. We provide positive alternatives, like the boxing.

“With the reading, they hear a voice telling them a story, something many of them never had as children. It’s like putting back that part that is missing.

“Probation is risk management, and we take risks with people by having them in the community. We see them as a person, rather than a label.

“But for this government, management seems more important than rehabilitation.”

Ms Casey, who will return to an office role for the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) when the project ends, teamed up with one HOPE client to work out the costs involved if he were to ever end up reoffending.

It was around £157,000 for one year.

“They aren’t thinking of the long term higher costs,” she said.

Labour politician and life peer Lord Bradley, who has been a champion of the HOPE, attended the reading group’s penultimate session on Thursday to hear concerns to take to the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC).

“Invariably the alternative to this group is back through the system, and then there are the expenses involved in that,” he said.

At this point, the group do not know what, if anything, will be done to keep some activities running when the project finishes.

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