Ashley Horsey, CEO of Commonweal and Elizabeth Clarson, CEO at Housing for Women, on Re-Unite’s roll out.

Photos of Elizabeth Clarson and Ashley HorseyHow we started

Re-Unite is entering the second chapter of its life. Initially, the project was launched as a small pilot in South London to test a simple hypothesis: by providing a stable home environment and tailored support to mothers leaving prison we could help re-unite them with their children, thereby breaking the cycle of criminality and deprivation.

The pilot’s founding partners – Commonweal Housing and Housing for Women (HfW) –expected to see a multitude of benefits in addition to the number of children re-united with their mothers. These included improved lives for the families supported, a reduction in re-offending rates and lessening the costs – both social and financial – of crime to society.

Under the initial partnership agreement, HfW provides frontline support to the families, while Commonweal provides 10 homes for these families to live in as well as resourcing an independent evaluation.

A positive start

The results of the pilot held between 2007 and 2009, which also involved the charity Women in Prison, were extremely encouraging. The evaluation, led by Prof. Loraine Gelsthorpe of the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University, found that of the nine women to move on from the project, eight had been reunited with their children. Moreover, none of these women had re-offended.

The picture was equally promising for those tenants who had yet to move on. Seven out of the nine tenants at the time had their children in their care and, again in complete contrast to national statistics on re-offending rates, none of these women had been charged or investigated in respect of committing a crime.

Both Commonweal and HfW were encouraged by Prof.  Gelsthorpe’s conclusion that the Re-Unite model would deliver tangible social change elsewhere. “It provides an important basis for the replication of the idea of a housing and support package for women and their children in other areas,” she said.

Securing the project’s future

Indeed, the early evidence suggests Re-Unite will have an important role to play in the Government’s “rehabilitation revolution”. For the Ministry of Justice, the priority is about preventing current offenders from re-offending. For the Home Office, it’s about how to ensure the next generation isn’t exposed to conditions that are likely to lead to offending. Re-Unite looks set to play an important role in both.

The evidence enabled us to secure a further £300,000 from a number of grant-giving trusts to extend HfW’s delivery of the South London project for a further three years until 2014. Commonweal Housing and HfW are building on this successful partnership by finding other partners interested in replicating Re-Unite around the UK.  This started in 2009 with an agreement to work with the Asha Centre (Asha) in Worcester, a one- stop women’s resource centre.

Rolling the programme out

The Founding Partners are in the process of finalising partnerships with other organisations around the UK to replicate the project; currently working with Harrow Churches Housing Association to provide Re-Unite North London and also agreeing a partnership with Isis Women’s Centre in Gloucestershire.

More recently, we have started work with a women’s community project in Birmingham called Anawim, which is already working with multiple local agencies to provide housing and support to this vulnerable group.

Finding the right partners is central to our strategy to scale up Re-Unite and we are also looking for partners across the North, particularly in Yorkshire and Humberside, Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

One of Commonweal’s aims is to capture and then replicate the learning from these projects. This is why we have commissioned Prof. Gelsthorpe and her team to continue evaluating the project.

Delivering a successful project is only part of our objective – how we replicate what we achieve will always be the true measure of our success.