Those among you with long memories may recall Frank Longford as the ‘loony lord’ beloved of red-top tabloids, where he was dubbed ‘Lord Wrongford’ because he argued – unsuccessfully, it turned out – that Myra Hindley, the Moors Murderess, qualified for parole. Like all headlines, it failed to capture the whole man and what he was really about.
From 1930, when he was elected a Labour councillor in Oxford, through to 2001, when he was 95 and almost blind, he visited two or three prisoners a week, always at their invitation, and on the whole quietly and effectively lobbied on their behalf as a former cabinet minister over their treatment by the criminal justice system. It was to continue, in some small measure, his lifetime’s work that the Longford Trust was established in 2002 after his death by his friends, family and admirers.
Our major project is to run the Longford Scholarship programme that makes up to 25 awards per year of financial and mentoring support to young serving and ex-prisoners who want to continue their rehabilitation by going to university. Young people like Lee Cutter, who came to us six years ago, fresh out of prison, and wanting to go to art school. He had no family support, no-one he knew who had been to university, and wasn’t unsure where to apply. We worked with him throughout his three years at university, watching him come out of his shell and gain such a good final result that, with our encouragement, he won a prestigious fully-funded scholarship to do a post-graduate course at the Royal Drawing School.
At the end-of-year exhibition, he was picked out from his fellow students to discuss his work with the school’s patron, the Prince of Wales, and this year has had the best start possible to his career as a working artist by having a piece accepted into the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. Lee is now well and truly on his way, the potential that had gone unrecognised when he first contacted us now realised and driving him forward.
Because most awards are for the three years of a degree, we have around 60-70 Longford Scholars on the programme at any one time, supported by one of our trained volunteer mentors and receiving from us up to £5,000 per academic year towards their expenses.
We started the scheme on a small scale in 2005, with just three awards, but it has grown as we have developed successful and enduring links with prison education departments up and down the country so that they direct to us those in their care who are about to be released and have hopes of a university place. Where we have struggled more is building up equivalent links with the National Probation Service – for all sorts of good reasons.
You have a huge workload and the educational aspirations of those ex-prisoners you work with are a small part of your overall responsibilities. Plus, since they are out of prison and have access to the internet, they should, in theory, be able to find out details themselves. We have a lively website (longfordtrust.org) which features all the details of the scholarships, as well as the application form required, and short films where successful Longford Scholars (including Lee) tell their stories.
But we still feel there are more recently released prisoners we could reach, if only our work and what we can offer were better known. And that is why we are asking for your help. Our scholarships are available up to five years after release – we have learnt that it can take time for those coming out of custody to get round to being a position where they feel ready to contemplate a university course. And they really do work.
Of the several hundred people we have had on our programme since 2005, 85 per cent have gone on to graduate, get jobs and rebuild their lives. (Part of our programme is to organise university vacation internships with them with public bodies like the Cabinet Office or big companies in fields such as law and accountancy.) Fewer than five per cent of those we give scholarships to return to prison.
It is, in short, a success story. We’d like more people to benefit. Please can you help us get the word out.
Peter Stanford is director of the Longford Trust. You can contact him at email@example.com