The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

Norfolk Christian project to reduce re-offending

Community Chaplaincy Norfolk is a Christian service supporting ex-offenders to successfully rebuild their lives after prison.  The project’s new Coordinator, Susan Carne, spoke to Jenny Seal about her work recruiting volunteer mentors and sympathetic landlords.

Last month Susan Carne took up the role of Project Coordinator for Community Chaplaincy Norfolk.
This service is based on the model established by the Community Chaplaincy Association, a growing national network of local projects which harness the resources available within faith communities, most particularly volunteers who give their time to support those who are seeking to make a fresh start after leaving prison. 

Susan Carne's role within Community Chaplaincy Norfolk is to recruit and manage volunteer mentors who will work closely with ex-offenders who have expressed a desire to change their lives and want to break the cycles of behaviour that sees them returning to prison. 

Susan is an Assemblies of God accredited minister and helped to lead a community church in an ex-pit village in South Yorkshire before moving to Norfolk, where she worked for a year as a Volunteer Chaplain in HMP Wayland.  She has a keen passion for working with those on the margins. 

She said: “I love being out in the community. I’ve always worked with marginalised, vulnerable people and I think they are the people that Jesus would be mixing with and wanting us to work with.” 

As a Volunteer Chaplain Susan has had many conversations in prison with men who desperately want to rebuild their lives when they are released. But as she explains: “The thing is, it is easy to talk about moving on on the inside but the reality is very hard.  Once you’ve got a criminal record it is very hard to get a job.  It is very hard to get a flat.  Nobody trusts you.  You are tarred with that ex-offender brush.  

“However much you have paid your debt to society you are judged and condemned continuously really.  But I hope that by providing a mentor that will go to appointments, speak on their behalf, stand with them in difficult situations, we will be able to make that difference.”

Susan believes that the involvement of Christians will be key to the project’s success.  She said: “We know as Christians that we have the resilience to keep going with people without giving up on them.  Yes, they are going to fail sometimes, just like we do, but they just need to be picked up and restarted again.”

The service will deliberately start small with training for the first group of 6-8 volunteer mentors taking place in September and October.  The project is looking to recruit volunteer mentors based across Norfolk who have the resilience to stick with the people in spite of setbacks, are professional, IT literate, and willing to be accountable to management.

It is hoped that there will be two training sessions a year so that the service can slowly increase with integrity, being able to tell genuine success stories on the way with monitoring to show that their contribution has made the difference.   

Chaplains based in HMP NorwichHMP Wayland and elsewhere will send Community Chaplaincy Norfolk referrals of men who show a serious desire to turn their life around.  Susan will then meet the man in prison to do her own assessment and ideally introduce them to their mentor before they then meet them at the gate on release.

Susan said: “I would hope that every person who requires this help or asks for this help would be teamed up with a mentor who would see them through to the success of whatever their goals and dreams and aspirations are. And for all of them and us that is ultimately not returning to prison.  That is the goal." 

Community Chaplaincy Norfolk comes under the umbrella of Norwich-based charity House of Genesis which offers homely, supported accommodation to homeless men including ex-offenders. 

Susan has quickly identified that a lack of accommodation is the biggest problem that sends many people back to prison.  She said:  “I’m talking to a lot of hostels and housing providers.  The need is on the increase and Government funding is on the decrease.  So cutbacks are meaning that provision can’t be expanded and a lot of places are full all the time. It is a big problem.”

House of Genesis is currently fundraising to set up a third house in Norwich for homeless prisoners and you can sponsor Quaker Chaplain at HMPs Wayland and Norwich, Mark Bredin, as he seeks to cycle 200 miles around Norfolk later this month for the charity.  Read more about Mark’s cycle ride and how to support the project financially at www.thehouseofgenesis.org.  

Susan would also love to work with landlords who are sympathetic to the work in order to access more accommodation. 

If you would like to volunteer as a mentor or if you have accommodation you would be willing to rent to ex-offenders who are engaged with Community Chaplaincy Norfolk you can contact Susan by email on comm.chap.norf@hotmail.com or Val Dodsworth by mobile on 07758 208470.

You can also support the work by praying for Susan as she begins this role.  She asks: “Please pray for me that God will continue to give me divine appointments with crucial people and that I find favour with people wherever I go but especially with Prison Governors. Please pray for volunteers to come forward to help with the work and for funding to cover the expenses. Most importantly please pray for daily opportunities to share the Good News with those that I meet.”

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