Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

EMMY MERCAN (Kent, Surrey & Sussex CRC)

EMMY MERCAN (Kent, Surrey & Sussex CRC)

COMMENDEE 2019-20: Emmy receives a Commendation for her work as a Probation Services Officer with KSS CRC, setting up a ‘Breakfast Club’ where women can meet, receive support, and find hope and inspiration.

Initial nominator and Senior Probation Officer, Stephanie Clark, explains that Emmy set up The Bridge Breakfast Club “to engage more female service users as part of our women’s strategy. Emmy has been instrumental in setting up the club in Crawley that has broken down barriers so some of the hardest to reach service users receive probation and partnership support services.”

This involved Emmy working closely with St John’s Church who provide both the space and the volunteers that cook the breakfast. Emmy has also secured £15,000 in total to fund the club from a range of partners including the church, the Police and Crime Commissioner, and local police services. She has also established relationships with an impressive range of partner agencies to ensure service users receive support with issues such as employment, housing and drug treatment. Partners include Change Grow Live, Streetlight, Rape Crisis Surrey and Sussex, Christians Against Poverty, Employ Crawley, Worth Services, Inspire, Keys Community Detox and Emerging Futures.

Since opening its doors in April 2018, writes Stephanie:

“The Bridge Breakfast Club has offered over 400 spaces to service users with a relaxed, friendly, informal space to meet with their probation officer and other agencies while enjoying a free breakfast. Emmy also set up and runs a female-only reporting morning where the service users’ children are welcome to attend. The club is so successful, it’s now in the process of being replicated in other areas of KSS CRC…The brainchild of Emmy, this Breakfast Club is a lifeline for both homeless and female service users.”

Butler Trust Local Champion and Chief Executive Suki Binning says “Emmy has engineered the right conditions for the Breakfast Club to be a success. Almost single-handedly while retaining a full caseload she has secured partner’s funding, the church’s space and support of other agencies.”

The philosophy of the Club, adds Suki, “is to provide service users with a safe and sheltered space where they can connect with various agencies or undertake appointments with their responsible officer while being provided with a free breakfast. Although the Breakfast Club was initially set up to engage our female service users, Emmy has made sure that everyone has access and are welcome to join. This includes women, the homeless, sex workers, and hard to reach service users.”

The Breakfast Club has “an excellent reputation among service users” and, says Suki. Service users’ average rating is a remarkable 97%. Meanwhile, the Service User Council engaged over 600 service users between August and October 2018, and received only positive comments about the club – and have asked for it to be replicated in other areas. Suki reports the nine key benefits they cite:

  1. Service users relaxing and engaging more openly with their responsible officer because of the relaxed/informal environment.
  2. Service users bringing their children with them where childcare is an issue.
  3. Those struggling financially having a hot meal free of charge.
  4. For those who are homeless, it provides a warm, safe environment.
  5. Service users spending time socialising with people that understand their situation, alleviating isolation and the sense of social stigma some experience.
  6. Service users being able to talk to agencies when they feel ready, perhaps being aware of the regular presence of a provider for a while before choosing to make contact.
  7. Improved communication and relationships between service users and responsible officers.
  8. Improved attendance, resulting in fewer breaches.
  9. Improved confidence and mental wellbeing for service users.

There was plenty of powerful testimony from service users, too, including:

“It is a wonderful place, safe and healing.”

“I like the atmosphere. Really nice people, relaxing.”

“All the staff are friendly and helpful to each and every one of us.”

“I like coming here as it’s a warm and friendly place to come.”

“A unique way to bring the Lord and the people together and feel safe within the environment.”

“Love the food and the people.”

“I have come to my appointments more often. I find it better as an environment where I can relax and chat to probation and the church ladies and men.”

“A lifeline. I come every week and see the different support workers in a friendly atmosphere.”

“So much better than going to the probation office where you are reminded and dragged back. Coming here feels like moving forwards.”

“The Breakfast Club is great. I can bring my little boy rather than worrying about childcare. It is women-only which is much more relaxing. While here, my responsible officer supported me to end an abusive relationship.”

“It gives me the chance to have my one-to-one in a casual setting. It is much less intimidating.”

Sally* from User Voice called The Breakfast Club “tremendously positive, seeing staff and service users, along with volunteers and partner agencies, sitting together chatting in such a relaxed way. Service users expressed to me that they felt able to talk more openly there.”

Meanwhile the coordinator at St. John’s Church says,

“From the very first contact I had with Emmy, her enthusiasm and absolute commitment to her clients has been so evident and completely inspirational. Emmy’s compassionate heart and ability to always see the potential in people is admirable. She sympathises deeply with the troubled lives and has such hope and belief in her clients’ futures, wanting to help and support in any way she can. She has been so supportive and encouraging in getting The Bridge up and running and all the staff and volunteers from St. John’s have much admiration and faith in Emmy. Having worked alongside her since it began, I can only say what a privilege it has been and what an amazing and wonderful person she is.”

Another colleague, the representative from Streetlight, says, “Emmy really cares about her clients, she is empathetic, and challenging when needed, but not in a way that causes offence to service users or professionals. Emmy goes above and beyond for the service and clients and is a massive asset to the probation service. She truly deserves recognition.”

Meanwhile, Natalie Paydar for CGL, called working with Emmy “such a pleasure. She will always go above and beyond for clients and working with her has been a pleasure because she will always give her time and be flexible in order to provide the best multi-agency approach for clients.”

The results are measurable, too, writes Suki:

“Engagement rate at the Crawley probation office has increased from 75% in April 2018 (when the Breakfast Club first started) to 88.7% in May 2019.”

Emmy describes The Bridge Breakfast Club as “a safe place for women” and “a calm and informal setting whereby Officers can engage their clients with supervision sessions. We also deliver the ‘Succeed and Believe’ programme after breakfast club. We are currently looking at bringing in another programme, ‘Flourish’, to complement our current programme for women’s emotional wellbeing.”

She modestly adds that:

“The Bridge has exceeded my expectations in that there are many positive elements to having this service. Not only do we have many services under one roof, we have volunteers who will engage service users to befriend, advise, mentor and support them. This works to the Officers’ benefit also, as volunteers are often at hand to assist with application forms and benefit forms, etc. This also works extremely well for social inclusion and feeling a positive member of the community through the church. Many females forge good friendships and support each other.”

* Names have been anonymised


With thanks to Kent, Surrey & Sussex CRC, especially initial nominator and Senior Probation Officer Stephanie Clark, Butler Trust Local Champion and Chief Executive Suki Binning, as well as numerous colleagues and service users, for their contributions.

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