It is early summer in the Longford Trust’s office, and our small team is working through the 100 or so applications from serving and ex-prisoners who want one of our Longford Scholarship awards and the financial and one-to-one mentoring support to go to university that comes along with it.
“It would allow me to gain more education,” explains one in the personal statement section of the application form; a fairly common sentiment expressing the potential value the awards have on the general wellbeing and future aspirations of many seeking our help. “That in itself would provide me with a platform to articulate and express my own personal circumstances as well as demonstrating to the rest of the world that I have managed to turn a very bad situation into a positive. The completion of a degree would also give a sense of personal achievement and self worth that I think would be an invaluable to rehabilitation and future outcome in life.”
Like several others among the forms, this one also comes with a reference from his probation officer. “I have really worried what to do with ****** because he has a huge amount of potential,” he tells us. “How to bring it out in him in the best way for his circumstances. I believe that to pick up his university studies would be the best way.”
Such an endorsement form a probation officer will count for much when the trustees assemble. We have learnt to rely on the experience and wisdom that is conveyed by such referees.
The idea of offering scholarships had arisen four years after the trust was started, in memory of the former Labour cabinet minister and lifelong penal reformer, Frank Longford, who had died in 2001.
Frank Longford was, I am fully aware, a controversial figure, who took his belief in prisoners’ capacity for rehabilitation further than most. But he also believed education to be an essential building blocks for a successful life.
They are not for all prisoners, of course, but for those who qualify our grants level the playing field with other more affluent and better-supported undergraduates when it comes to paying for student accommodation, books and the now obligatory laptop.
And our mentors – some former Longford Scholars, and others, retired probation officers – are there to help navigate them through the challenges of university life, and towards careers through the internships and work-placements we can access with employers who support our work.
In the past 13 years since our modest start, we have supported 260 individuals. The current awards round will add another 25 to that total. What has driven such growth is that it works: 85% of those we work with get degrees, land degree-level jobs, and then move forward with their lives. Just 4% have returned to prison.
If you want to know more about the Longford Scholarships, you can look us up at www.longfordtrust.org Or email our scholarship manager, Philippa, at email@example.com Or Napo has generously allowed us a stand at the AGM in Cardiff. I look forward to meeting you.