Commissioner Community Grant Scheme funding

The Commissioner Community Grant Scheme has offered us a fund of £2,500 to train 10 ex-offenders as part of our ‘Cascade Jumpstart into Safer Communities’ project.

This fund will help 10 ex-offenders to improve their literacy and numeracy and will significantly improve their employability, moving them closer to work. This will include:

  • Literacy where learners have never understood their own learning style, thus not achieving at school.
  • ADHD and those who have suffered life changing head injuries or other physical injuries.
  • Those who have been unable to fit into society through their own personal experiences, leading to loneliness and feeling of isolation.
  • Ex-prisoners who need to be able to return to the community and general lifestyles such as using public transport finding a doctor or dentist surgery.

It is our mission to use a new approach to support and educate disengaged ex-offenders and others living within the local community with specific learning difficulties to transform their lives and reduce reoffending. Our project within HMP Doncaster “Dyslexia Behind Bars II”, uncovered a high percentage of prisoners with learning difficulties: 53% had a reading and writing age of four years, 52% of the families of prisoners had learning difficulties and 72% of prisoners had not had a job for many years.

Our interview and course ‘Cascade Personal and Social Development for people with learning disabilities’ runs for six weeks. During this time. we provide a multi-sensory approach to teaching using our own developed unique and innovational programs which are delivered to suit each learner’s individual needs using specialist designed IT software.

All our learners develop their skills, behaviours and attitudes through direct instruction and added support as necessary which enables learners to learn and grow in self-knowledge, social interaction, physical and emotional health with self-determination through our project-based activities.

We improve the numeracy and literacy of learners so that they can become self-sufficient. Evidence from employees such as Marks & Spencer shows that employees recruited from disadvantaged groups demonstrate low turnover rates than the wider workforce. The higher value placed on having a job with the desire to stay out of prison often means ex-offenders have high levels of loyalty and retention.

In Doncaster there are four prisons within a 10-mile radius and we found that 75% of employees will not hire these claimants because of their previous convictions. Joe (not his real name) had been volunteering for three days a week for three years with a local charity; their policy was not to employ anex-offender. After nine sessions with Cascade he decided to leave the other charity and is now understanding how dyslexia is stopping people getting their CSCS card. He is also helping in our community café and attending meetings with potential funders. The skills he had developed whilst in prison were overlooked because he was unable to find employment due to his criminal record.

Huge thanks to the South Yorkshire Police and Commissioner for funding this project giving 10 ex-prisoners the opportunity to change their lives!

Michael cascades with success

Michael Thompson will never forget the day he met Jackie Hewitt-Main OBE, founder of The Cascade Foundation, during the very first week of his 14-month custodial sentence at HMP Doncaster.

The History graduate from Greater Manchester stood out from many of his fellow prisoners with his University education and calm, friendly demeanour. Within five minutes of chatting to Michael about her innovative prison project to teach inmates to read and write, she’d realised his potential and recruited him to start mentoring prisoners under her guidance.

“Working with Jackie to teach individuals to read and write gave me a unique insight into why people end up in prison,” explains Michael. “I started to understand that a person’s background could dramatically affect their chances and realised very quickly that if someone doesn’t have any tangible level of literacy or numeracy, the more likely they are to offend.”

Jackie Hewitt-Main OBE, founder of The Cascade Foundation with Michael Thompson from Rite Trax

Jackie Hewitt-Main OBE, founder of The Cascade Foundation with Michael Thompson from Rite Trax

By taking on a role of teaching alongside Jackie, Michael was able to apply his own skills to help many others as well as himself. He embarked on a number of training and learning courses, gaining qualifications in Customer Service, Counselling and Business Studies. He also completed a Level 3 ‘Award in Education’ to further improve his teaching proficiency.

“I’ve been a musician since I was about 13 years-old,” adds Michael. “Music is my passion and before I went to prison, I regularly used to attend gig nights in Sheffield where I was studying. Spending time assisting Jackie and teaching others, I decided I’d like to turn my passion into a business and, ultimately, work with young people and offenders to enable them to create and showcase music.”

After his release, Michael did an enterprise course with The Prince’s Trust. He worked hard at his entrepreneurial objective and, with support from his friends in Manchester and Sheffield, he established a social enterprise – Rite Trax – with three of his peers.

“Rite Trax is a platform for music, art, design and poetry with a focus on an underground creative culture,” says Michael. “We’ve got our own premises at Castle Market in Sheffield and we’re working with artists, musicians, painters and writers from all over the UK. We have an event space that holds up to 100 people where we stage music events, shows and exhibitions, and we recently delivered a street party for over 500 people for Sheffield City Council as part of the regeneration of the Castlegate area of the city.”

As well as managing Rite Trax, Michael is a Young Ambassador for The Prince’s Trust and he also volunteers for several local drug and alcohol awareness charities.

“Just like Jackie, I want to keep people out of prison and give young people something meaningful and creative to do with their time,” concludes Michael. “We all have problems in our lives and Rite Trax gives people the space to be themselves for a few hours and, hopefully, provides them with the inspiration and motivation they need to achieve their own goals.”