Changing lives at Belmarsh: CGL launches new film featuring the work of peer mentors
The film features the experiences of three peer mentors and a graduate of the Scheme who went on to volunteer in CGL’s Bromley Drug and Alcohol Service upon release.
The Peer Mentor Scheme
The Peer Mentor Scheme is designed for people who have overcome problems with drugs and alcohol and who are now inspiring others to break free from their addiction. Peer mentors formally interviewed for the scheme which is the only one of its kind in a Category A prison (holding the highest risk offenders). Once accepted, participants undertake an accredited Level 2 National Open College Network Diploma in peer mentoring and drugs and alcohol. The six week course teaches communication skills, motivation, assertiveness, learning styles, and conflict resolution.
Graduation – celebrating achievement
After the course has finished participants take part in a graduation ceremony in front of an invited audience which includes their families, prison staff, commissioners and support services.
“The graduation has made me kind of blossom and feel like somebody again. You don't realise you got so much help and people that care and I was a little bit taken back with the amount of people that were there to offer support in my change. When I graduated I met quite a few people and I felt wanted, and that is a big thing for me. Because I at one stage felt I was an under achiever. “
The First Night centre
Peer mentors are visible throughout the prison and are the point of contact for anyone who needs confidential support with their substance misuse. Peer mentors also play an important role in the First night centre where people have their initial contact the Prison and with the drug and alcohol services available to them.
“We help them make that change and adapt to the new environment. Basically support them in their change from being free, to not being free, to getting help with drugs or alcohol. I can relate to the newcomer a lot more than maybe an officer or a worker because I'm in the same boat as they are. So we just help them help themselves.”
Upon release Peer Mentors can access volunteering programmes in the community with CGL projects which gives them the confidence to go and do positive things on release, gain paid employment and ultimately rehabilitating themselves.
A catalyst for change
Simon Cartwright, Former Governor at Belmarsh who is featured in the film comments:
“I've seen a real, real change across the board with staff/prisoner relationships that's enhanced with service users and peer support workers. Peer support workers are actively talking to service users and almost spreading that word, it does make a difference, it can change and it will change. The feedback that we get from staff, from service users, from peer mentors, from the service provider has been absolutely fantastic, so I would have no hesitation in rolling this out in other establishments and recommending it to others. “
Change Grow Live CEO, David Biddle comments:
"I think we've learnt so much in delivering the Peer Mentor Scheme in Belmarsh and if we can do it in a high security environment with lots of the constraints and I think that probably the lessons that we've learnt there are going to be applicable to other areas. I'm so proud that we've been able introduce the Scheme in Belmarsh it's made a huge impact upon the lives of some people who've had very difficult experiences and I think that's something that we should spread.”