On Friday 16th of February 2018, 3 Pillars Project were delighted to join Prince Harry and Rugby Legend, Jonny Wilkinson, at England Rugby's open training session in support of Try For Change. Preparing for their next Six Nations game, England Rugby were using the training day as an occasion to thank the rugby community for their continued support.
As one of the first eleven projects to be part-funded by the RFU and Comic Relief’s Try for Change, we were proud to be able to discuss our work in prisons in London and South East areas. Coaches Kaz and Mike spoke with Prince Harry, a fan of the sport and Patron of the Rugby Football Union, about the power of sport, values of rugby, positive role models, mentoring… and Coach Kaz’s massive thighs.
3 Pillars Project CEO, Mike Crofts, first met with Prince Harry almost two and a half years ago. The Prince shared with him his advice on how to make the idea of 3 Pillars Project into a reality. It was, therefore an incredible honour to be able to discuss our progress with the Prince and share with him our achievements in using excellence in sport, teamwork and leadership as a foundation for effective rehabilitation.
The majority of individuals within the criminal justice system have been exposed to traumatic events across their lives. A considerable body of research now indicates a link between traumatic experiences and subsequent criminal behaviour and aggression, otherwise known as the ‘cycle of violence’. Complex trauma-related problems present in many guises, including seeking-risk or challenging behaviours, and may be the product of coping mechanisms and attempted self-protection. Being trauma informed is a way that non-clinical organisations can demonstrate that they are therapeutic.
Thanks to a kind donation by the Rothschild Foundation, we have been able to expand our support and training to allow for the integration of a trauma informed approach. We believe that the principles underpinning trauma informed practice are essential in the delivery of effective support to young people in prison. In particular, developing a trauma informed approach has been central to support our work in our new project, Cookham Wood Youth Offenders Institute (YOI). Up to “90% of justice-involved-youth report exposure to some type of traumatic event” (Dierkhising et al, 2013).
The basic assumptions of a trauma informed approach are safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment (Quiros and Berger, 2013). Fundamentally, at the core of our courses, we build strong and influential relationships based on trust, support and through sport education.
Trauma informed practice will also allow us to support the participants’ recovery, facilitating personal and social development, and more importantly, avoiding re-traumatization. Complementary to our courses, using a trauma-informed and strengths-based approach will promote natural resiliency and provide young people with the tools to positively manage their emotions.
Overall, implementing a trauma informed approach for 3 Pillars Project has involved organizational change, including the reassessment of policies, course practices, and the training of staff. By no means does this assume that our coaches and mentors will be trauma-experts, however, by providing a trauma informed approach, we will be more equipped in our interactions with the participants going forward, emphasising trust, collaboration and safety in particular.
In 2018, 3 Pillars Project will be implementing a Trauma Informed model of intervention for our courses. We believe that the principles underpinning trauma informed practice are essential in the delivery of effective support to young people in prison. A participant does not need to have suffered trauma to benefit from a Trauma Informed approach. Being trauma informed is a way that non-clinical mental health organisations can demonstrate that they are therapeutic. No experience of trauma is necessarily required in order for the trauma informed approach to be effective, consequently even if participants have not experienced trauma they will still benefit from a trauma informed approach.
The first step in this approach came by completing the two-day Mental Health First Aid Training course. Hosted by Robustmind Mental Fitness, delivered by Steve Metcalf, the course gives an introduction to a range of topics relating to mental health, including depression, suicidal crisis, anxiety, self-harm and psychosis, how to help recognise the symptoms of mental health issues, how to provide initial help, and how to guide someone towards appropriate professional help. By no means does it make attendees experts, but it is a good starting point for greater mental health awareness.
Approximately one in four adults are diagnosed with a mental illness during their life (Mind, April 2017). Research suggests that prisoners have a disproportionately high rate of mental health issues. Many of these may be present before entry to prison due to complex social and personal issues such as substance misuse or trauma and may be further exacerbated by the stress of imprisonment. However, mental disorders may also develop during imprisonment itself as a consequence of the prevailing conditions that have a negative effect on mental health, including overcrowding, violence, isolation, and insecurity.
Improving the mental health of those in prison requires a change in effort and resources. As part of our work directly engaging with young people in prison, 3 Pillars Project aims to be more aware of the problems faced by those with mental health issues in prison, and in particular support the management of these in prison and beyond.
3 Pillars Project are joined on the Board of Directors by a new volunteer Director; Lieutenant Colonel Rob Page has served and led in the British Army since he graduated from University in 2001. He has served in Iraq and Afghanistan and conducted training throughout Europe and North America.
Rob has remained connected to rugby as a coach and referee and has always enjoyed harnessing the power of sport for developing leadership, teamwork and a core values in the Army.
Passionate about social change Rob retains an interest in education serving on a board of a Multi-Academy Trust with over twenty schools in Oxfordshire, Swindon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. He joins the project as a Director with a focus on strategy, operations and challenge. Rob currently works at the Ministry of Defence in London.
We look forward to welcoming Rob into the organisation as we strive to have a positive social impact and support young men in custody and on their departure.
England Rugby and Comic Relief today announce the first set of Try for Change small grant recipients.
The Try for Change small grants round is the first initiative in England Rugby’s partnership with Sport Relief. Aimed at supporting smaller charities, community groups and grassroots rugby clubs in England, the grants offer projects up to £10,000 to support the valuable work they are doing to improve lives through rugby.
Over 40 organisations, including 17 rugby clubs, applied for a small grant, with 11 projects ultimately being awarded funding. The successful projects are located across England and use rugby and its core values as a tool to greatly improve and support the lives of marginalised and disadvantaged people.
· The Northumbria Sport Foundation which is working with refugees and asylum seekers providing them with opportunities through rugby to integrate with the wider community
· Roots Project CIC which is helping young unemployed people by providing rugby courses combining sport with employability training.
· 3 Pillars Project working with young people in prisons to reduce violence and reoffending through structured rugby sessions.
· Sporting Memories Foundation which is bringing together young people in the rugby community with older isolated people to improve mental wellbeing and social integration.
Dominic Proctor, RFU Chair for Try for Change and RFU Board Member said “It’s great to see such deserving projects being awarded grants in our first round of funding. The projects selected each demonstrate how rugby has the ability to improve the lives of millions of people from all walks of life and I’m excited to see how they each of them utilise their grants to make a real difference over the coming months.”
Sue Wicks, Strategic Lead, Sport for Change at Comic Relief said: “The small grant recipients have each shown their commitment to making positive change through rugby, with many already demonstrating just how important such initiatives are to individuals in need. There’s a great spectrum of projects covering numerous disadvantaged and socially isolated groups across England and I can’t wait to see how they continue to grow their fantastic programmes over the coming year to provide positive change within their communities.”
3 Pillars Project CIC is one of the first eleven projects to benefit from Try for Change. The project is focused on unlocking the potential of young people in prisons, using rugby’s core values to reduce violence and reoffending.
Mike Crofts, CEO of 3 Pillars Project, said, “We have already successfully piloted our rugby academy course with young men in HMP Wormwood Scrubs in North West London and the Try for Change grant will enable us to deliver new courses in further prisons. Our project emphasises the value of teamwork and sportsmanship through rugby, helping people achieve their full potential.
“One prison officer remarked that she had seen a young man's behaviour become unrecognisable over the course, while a prisoner remarked that learning to play rugby for him 'allowed him to feel part of a team and be more positive in prison’.”
Following the successful Try for Change small grants round, Comic Relief and England Rugby have launched a large grants round which is open for submissions from Monday 4 September.
Proposals to the Try for Change large grants round will need to demonstrate wider social outcomes and not just focus on increasing participation in rugby. It is open to charities, not-for-profit organisations and rugby clubs across England with organisations able to apply for a grant of up to £100,000 for work delivered over 2-3 years.
For more details, and to apply for funding, please visit the Comic Relief Grants section HERE.
August marks the completion of our fifth and final course of the season. It's been an incredible journey over the past year since delivering our pilot course in HMP Wandsworth. We have created a dynamic and dedicated team and managed to attract some fantastic partners.
Partnership and collaboration is the latest buzzword in the the Third Sector, but it really is effective and mirrors strategies well understood by business for years. At 3 Pillars Project we warmly welcome opportunities to partner, believing by working with likeminded partners we can be more than just the sum of our parts. Last Tuesday was a great example of this. We welcomed members of TfL's (Transport for London) HR department to deliver an employability session for the members of the course, covering CV writing, cover letters, interview techniques and job hunting; helping the young men to understand how to apply for jobs with TfL.
Part of our model advocates the introduction of young people to rugby clubs, by inviting teams in to play against our course participants, we can help this process. We welcomed Battersea Ironsides Rugby Club to come and play our 5th course. A competitive but good natured affair saw Ironsides beaten, but impressed by the speed with which the young players from Scrubs picked up the game. We were also fortunate to welcome Ollie Phillips (of England 7s fame) and Barry Murphy, both of PWC and two recent graduates of the Rugby for Heroes programme. An Ironsides player remarked that "this experience has completely changed my perception of people in prison". After a year working in prisons, I agree; there is so much we can do in the community to support people in prison and after it.
A rugby club is an incredibly strong and supportive community and by working with young people released from prison, clubs not only benefit from new players, but have a positive impact on their local community. An ex prisoner who wants to change their life and is supported by the many positive attributes of a rugby club is far less likely to commit crime than a young person released with no support network or hobby. For this reason we are working with a number of rugby clubs to offer support to young people leaving prison. We warmly welcome additional support.
If you'd have told me we would be where we are today, I would have laughed. But such has been the positivity with which people have engaged with the project and offered their support, that we have developed at a fantastic rate. I look forward to what the next year brings and the new people we will support and partner with.
In April, I spoke at the Cambridge University Science fair alongside Cambridge University Neuroscience experts. We spoke about the Pros & Cons of playing rugby.
If you want to find out a little more about the science of Contact Sport and your brain, as well as the social benefits, take a listen:
On the journey to create 3 Pillars Project and get it up and running, I have been incredibly lucky to gain the support of some fantastic people. Not least, Bex Norris and Will McLay who are the backbones of the organisation and have proven themselves over and over again.
But, it's not just business partners and fellow coaches who have offered help because of the need they see in society to channel and influence the aggression of young men, and give fractured communities greater support. I have been lucky in the support and advice of many others....even a Royal.
Prince Harry gave me his time to advise how to make the 3 Pillars idea into a reality. He gave me some important advice which I will share another time. However, 18 months on, we have the great team I mentioned, we are going from strength to strength and will have worked intensively with 60 young men in prison in our first year of delivery. I am proud of the tight community of support that has gathered around the project; I know we would not be as strong as we are without them.
We feature in this important article addressing masculinity, anger and identity crisis; especially for young men in society and prison who require support...
3 Pillars Project Rugby Academy host Barnes Rugby Club vets in a rugby match at HMP Wormwood Scrubs:
Why it should bother you...
Security is the most essential human need, nowhere more so than in prisons. The news is awash with stories of prison violence, the wide extent of drug use and fear has become suddenly apparent to a nation that prides itself on its liberal tradition of treating people humanely and the rule of law. Looking at the current reports of the prison system, I am reminded of my tours of Afghanistan and the theories that drove Britain’s work their; ‘without security, nothing will flourish’. The same is true in prisons; unless prisons are safe rehabilitation is not possible.
Whilst anyone might expect a concentration of people convicted of crime to be a more intimidating and a less forgiving environment, that is all the more reason why prison violence is so unacceptable. The risk of prisoners committing violent acts is no surprise, which is why it is so essential that the government equip prisons with the right people and resources to create safe environments.
Over the past three years, prison violence has increased rapidly; serious assaults in prison have more than doubled in the last 3 years. There were 2197 serious prisoner on prisoner assaults and 625 serious assaults on staff in 2015 (Prison Reform Trust). You don’t have to dig too hard to understand the causes of prison violence. The rise in violence has mirrored the reduction in prison officer numbers, veteran officers have been replaced by twenty somethings on low pay and the proliferation of psychoactive substances seeks to deepen this crisis.
Whilst prison officer numbers affect the likelihood of violent occurrences, the underlying causes of violence in prison remain behavioural; personal conflict is driven by frustration, poor self-discipline, low self-esteem and an inability to manage conflict. Men locked up for hours and hours lash out and are subsequently locked up for longer as punishment. It is a vicious circle and although I am not a psychologist, I am certain that the effects of surviving and living in such an environment are traumatic and long-lasting. Men are deepening the troubles that sent them to prison in the first place.
There are other causes of prison violence of course; gangs & prison economies create turf wars, gangs fight for the control of smuggling/dealing/supply of contraband. I will discuss our encounters with gang networks in a later blog, but without the necessarily strong levels of security in prisons, it is impossible to counter gang proliferation and the supply of drugs.
I am often confronted in conversation by people who advocate the ‘prisoners deserve all they get’ line of thinking. That solitary confinement for a period of several months is the best start to a sentence; that they should be broken. But these approaches are proven not to work. As a society, it is not in our interest to pursue such strategies because it just releases men back onto the streets who will commit more crime; currently 48% of prisoners reoffend within a year.
The reality I find of men in prison is quite different to the media's portrayal of the 'evil criminal'. Not all, but many prisoners suffer from a raft a complex needs that society, our culture, their families, communities, schools and the state have failed to address. I find personality disorders untreated, cripplingly low self-esteem, unacceptable levels of illiteracy and men in the middle of their lives who have made quite serious mistakes, but with the best of intention, do not have the support or know how to fix things and move forward.
The Justice Secretary has inherited one tremendous challenge, but creating a safe and secure environment is the starting point for all further progress. With safety, prisons can properly engage with prisoners. If we don’t, the cycle continues. 65% of the sons of prisoners will themselves go to prison. What the statistics suggest is the urgency that we must engage before this cycle of violence and offending spins out of control. But perhaps most importantly for you the reader, if we don't address the violence blighting the prison system, released men are more likely to commit crime on release - this is a truth that should bother us all.
Author: Mike Crofts
Mike is the Founder and CEO of The 3 Pillars Project. A former Army Officer, Mike advocates the power of sport, leadership and positive role models to unlock the potential of young people.