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Breaking the re-offending cycle – the ‘big and scary’ way

Andy Mouncey makes his living inspiring and supporting people to do ‘big and scary’ things. He is a record-setting triathlete who coaches others to conquer their own extreme physical and mental challenges. Now he has a new quest, one which is making him “excited – and nervous as hell!”

Mouncey’s community interest company, Run For Your Life, is developing a pilot programme to rehabilitate offenders inside HMP Bristol, HMP Kirkham and a juvenile prison in the midlands using a self-designed running and triathlon-based learning programme. The National Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of Crime‘s Theory of Change framework has been instrumental in the project’s formulation.

The project’s ultimate aim is to tackle the damaging cycle of re-offending after release from custody by boosting participants’ physical and mental health; improving attitude, behaviour and resilience; and providing pathways into education, training and employment.

Initially, the project will engage specifically with inmates who have children. With a view to creating more functional families via a shared experience and learning, those on the inside and outside will both be set a physical challenge: in prison it will involve the gym, rowing, stationary cycling and running, culminating in a race day with solo and team challenges also involving prison staff. On the outside, families will take part in ‘Couch to 5k’ programmes and accessible community events like Park Run.

All those on the project will learn vital habits for sustainable physical and mental health, right down to the practicalities of how to budget, shop and cook simple nutritious meals.

“Essentially, they will learn how to think and behave like endurance athletes,” says Mouncey. “The key skills to be successful at endurance sport are persevering through setbacks, managing your mood, looking after yourself for long periods of time without direct supervision, while playing by the rules.

“These are all skills essential to make a significant life transition stick – and they can be taught and practised. This is why endurance sport provides the perfect template to assist people in making that step back into mainstream society, whether that’s work, employment or education.

Partnerships with local cycle charities provide training in the prison workshops in bicycle repair, maintenance and recycling, with potential employment opportunities on the outside with organisations like Halfords.

Linking with the running and triathlon communities on the outside who will ‘catch’ the men post-release is one of the keys to the project’s success. This specialist support all the way through the process will help smooth participants’ transition through the gate and help to break the destructive and depressingly familiar re-offending pattern.

Mouncey’s challenge was to ensure that the project would end with solid evidence to prove its impact, in order to be able to grow from a pilot into a large, sustainable programme. This is where the Theory of Change came in.

“I was looking for an umbrella organisation for this line of work to try and find a generally accepted uniform template in order to do impact assessments and gather evidence, so to discover the Theory of Change was perfect,” said Mouncey.

“I’ve now effectively run my programme design through the Theory of Change so it is tightly ordered and sequenced, and consistent with evidence gathering, so it will provide us with data that enables us to present our case really clearly to decision makers. That’s the big difference. It’s basically making order out of chaos!

“It forces discipline into how you’re going to assess and measure what can be quite woolly stuff, particularly things like attitude and behaviour change. It’s given a really stark, black-and-white level of detail on producing evidence and conclusive proof that this stuff works.

“I’m not new to this. I’ve been working in this sector for 17 years. But running it through the ‘filter’ of the Theory of Change enabled me to turn it on its head and ‘start at the end’. i.e. What does success look like?

“All the elements were there in my plans but only I could translate and interpret the evidence it produced, and that wasn’t good enough. I needed to end up with something I can pitch and share in an easily-understood format.”

The NASDC Theory of Change sets out five key performance indicators (KPIs) under which sports projects should seek to achieve and prove maximum impact: engagement, physical and mental wellbeing, individual development, education and training, and social and community development.

Having undergone the Theory of Change training with Head of the NASDC, Justin Coleman, it became apparent that the ‘engagement’ element of Mouncey’s project needed some fine-tuning.

The Theory of Change breaks down the process of a potential participants’ engagement in a project, from ‘pre-contemplation’ (i.e. not interested) to ‘contemplation’, then ‘preparation’, ‘action’ and ‘maintenance’ (i.e. sticking with it).

Mouncey realised he needed to dissect every element of his initial recruitment process so that there were different actions and ways of evidencing impact at each of those stages of engagement.

“It really helped me to be able to say what’s going to happen step-by-step, and how to measure the success of what’s happening as people go through the stages of first becoming aware of the programme right through to actually stepping over the line and signing up,” he reflected.

Coleman adds: “Because Andy has worked in the sector for a long time he has got the right answers. The Theory of Change just helped him put them in the right order, bolstering some areas and stripping back others. He was taking it for granted that certain things would just happen, but needed to step back and think, ‘How will I measure that?’ He now has the tools to make sure he can record and evidence his impact across all areas.

“It’s a fantastic project which, in my opinion, could shape the delivery of prison services in the future. It’s about using the unique components and characteristics of endurance sport to fit the needs of an offender. It’s about self-to-self reflection, not comparing yourself to others. If you’re challenging yourself consistently and achieving 100 press-ups, and not constantly comparing yourself to someone who’s doing 1000, that’s where the power comes from.

“That internal mechanism is everything in endurance sport, and that’s the kind of ethos offenders need in their lives, to push themselves and progress in a way that enables them to become stronger and more resilient.”

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Andy Mouncey is Director of Run For Your Life Community Interest Company, which provides unique triathlon and running-based programmes to help families and people on the margins step up and make a transition in their life, sport, or education. Andy is an award-winning inspirational speaker, published author and record-setting triathlete who lives with his family in the north of England and still runs long for fun. Andy is seeking funding to grow and sustain his pilot prison programme, through grants and donations. Contact Andy at: andy@doingbigandscary.com

 

 

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