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Only Connect

Ellie Price, about 9 months ago

Our vision is a more connected society, where we all choose a crime free life."

Only Connect is a creative criminal justice charity rooted in community. Working with Londoners aged 16+ who have had recent experience with the criminal justice system, it aims to give them the necessary skills, attributes and positive networks that will allow them to develop and pursue their life goals without harm. Engaging with individuals at every point in the custody cycle, ex-offenders are provided with Membership to one of two Member Centres; OC Central in King's Cross and OC West in White City.

Members are encouraged to support themselves and unlock their potential through education, training and self-development opportunities. Members access a variety of creative projects, including music and catering training courses, which enable them to grow their skills and confidence. Ultimately, Only Connect is focused on supporting Members to move away from the criminal justice system and progress into education, training and employment (ETE).

The experience for members can be transformative:

There are so many ways you could describe OC music. In one word I'd describe it as a chance – a chance for change.

You get a vast knowledge of what it takes to do music if you want to do music – marketing, producing, role play. You [also] get basic skills, not just music, but basic skills that everyone needs in this era. Some people will spend a long time in prison – I spent 7 years [...] behind bars. When I came out of prison I didn't understand the concept of an oyster, kindle, the era of social networking – I knew nothing. Before Jason [the project lead] started emailing me times or videos of things, I wasn't interested in opening an email. But now I want to, and I know how to set up and attach things to emails. I can take that away from music for life."

Through this Membership model, Only Connect offers one single, seamless relationship from custody to community and into future prospects. Members are empowered to solve their own problems, with the aim of equipping a generation of individuals with the skills and resilience needed to address the challenges they face. The results of Only Connect's work can be clearly seen. In 2014/15 over 65% of Members progressed in to education, training or employment.

Mike's story is one example of the successful work of Only Connect. He recently completed On Point - a six-week programme focused on the personal development of members. The weekly workshops engage members in creative and innovative ways, working on employability, well-being and confidence.

At the start of the programme, Mike struggled with his confidence and ability to trust his peers within the group.

The first few sessions… I didn't even nearly make it to the first few sessions. The first session I ever came to, I remember I was in there for about two minutes. I just felt uncomfortable and rude. I was in a room full of people that I didn't know, and that's what made me get up and leave.

When you spend a long time in prison it's easy to get institutionalised. It takes time to get used to normal stuff again. On Point definitely helped. Definitely. It would be better if people could do this as soon as they come out [of prison]…I did change as a person from the beginning to the end as well. My mind used to be really closed, and I only used to see things in one way. And it's more open now, I look at things in loads of different ways."

“Only Connect [...] gave me hope again…[It] gave me that confidence, that chance to see I could do something positive."

To find out more about Only Connect and the opportunities it provides, click on the link in our directory.