Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2014-15: Louisa earns a Commendation for her work as a Peer Mentor Co-ordinator, in establishing a recovery-focused peer mentoring scheme for drug and alcohol users in Surrey.
Louisa Crowsley is a Peer Mentor Co-ordinator working for the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company (KSS CRC), and was nominated for her work establishing and running “Evolve”, a peer mentoring scheme in Surrey helping people described as “chaotic drug and alcohol users” find the path to recovery.
Carl Hall of the KSS CRC Substance Misuse Team describes Louisa’s work as “amazing”. He explains that “from the outset Louisa has had a very high success rate in recruiting, training, and developing recovered addicts to become mentors.”
Peers come from a wide pool of offenders and ex-offenders. Louisa’s approach and dedication has brought two keys advantage to Evolve’s work. Not only do substance misusers get access to support from people who really understand what they are going through, but the peers also go on to achieve recognised mentoring qualifications and sometimes paid employment.
Turning chaotic lives around is always going to be complex and require sustained engagement. In the words of one user who benefited from the project, peer mentors “let us know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that nothing is impossible.”
The impact of Louisa’s work is also demonstrated by the extremely positive feedback from those receiving support from a peer mentor – a 95% satisfaction rate. Carl Hall adds that “the quality of peer mentors is second to none and this is due to the way in which Louisa supports and trains them. Her organisational abilities, commitment and hard work have made the scheme the envy of others. Most impressive is her support of peer mentors and the way she makes them feel valued.”
One of the peer mentors at Evolve describes Louisa’s “amazing ability to make you feel welcome and comfortable around her…Her work and guidance throughout my role as a peer mentor has been fantastic and rewarding, which enabled me to be at ease and greatly help in my own self development.”
This peer mentor continues, “I have gained self confidence, self belief, self esteem and feel that she has helped me build a great foundation to be able to achieve any future goals that I set myself to do and any challenges that come along with it.
“I owe her a great deal of gratitude and respect. I am very happy to have been a part of Evolve and to know that you are helping to reach out and help make a difference is really empowering. Mentoring has given me that opportunity and has made me feel a part of society again.”
Over 250 service users have benefited in the two years the scheme has been running, with over 4500 hours donated voluntarily each year by her cadre of very well trained peer mentors.
Carl Hall calls Louisa “an inspiration”, and Valerie Watkin, Director of Quality and Corporate Services at KSS CRC, emphasises Louisa’s commitment to achieving the highest standards for her mentors and the service users they support.
Valerie quotes another peer mentor, who says “Louisa’s tireless efforts with Evolve is indeed awe inspiring. There was a time when times were tough for me and I struggled to get through but I did, but not without Louisa’s ever-reliable help and support. Though she probably doesn’t know it, she helped me pick myself up, get back on track and give me the confidence to continue being a peer mentor. Louisa has an uncanny ability to see the good in people which is priceless!“The amount of time and effort Louisa has put into Evolve is inspiring, hundreds of hours of totally committed work should never go unnoticed.”
Acting Chief Executive Adrian Baillieu agrees, saying that “Louisa has set the standards.” Indeed, she has created an impressive array of successful partnerships and training options for her peer mentors, many of whom have built on their qualifications in very positive ways. 8% are applying for full time work, 25% are in further education, 33% are employed with another 17% in employment and continuing to volunteer at Evolve.
As Louisa herself puts it in a simple but eloquent remark: “Hope is a very powerful tool.”
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
[Louisa Crowsley gives her account of the work for which she won her Commendation]
The peer mentors of Evolve support substance misusing offenders in Surrey to move away from drugs, alcohol and crime.
It has long been recognised that individuals who have committed crimes respond well to peers who have been through the criminal justice system and successfully come out the other side as ‘reformed characters’. Evolve, an innovative peer mentoring scheme matches recovering substance misusers with current substance misusing offenders to enable them to set and achieve goals to move away from drugs, alcohol and crime.
The aim of Evolve is to target high risk and prolific substance misusing offenders to reduce their dependence on substances, change their attitudes about crime and to instil a sense that they are capable of change. Louisa Crowsley, the co-ordinator of Evolve strongly believes; “If people believe they can make changes to their lives, they often do.” Working on this basis Louisa has worked hard to recruit and train former substance misusing offenders.
The novel aspect of Evolve is that a large number of these volunteer peer mentors have only been free of substances or the criminal justice system for less than a year. The usual prerequisite for schemes such as Evolve are for mentors to be stable for two, three or even four years.
The fact that Evolve is using such ‘fresh’ mentors means that they have a very current knowledge of the system, but it has also meant that they have needed a lot of support themselves at times. Despite this, Evolve has a fantastic record for developing Mentors. Local services such as the Youth Empowerment Service (YES) and Women in Prison (also known as the Women’s Support Centre), have actively sought to recruit peer mentors who have worked with Evolve as paid members of staff because of the high standards of training and supervision they have received.
To date 47% of Evolve peer mentors have used the experience they have gained with Evolve to go on to paid employment.
However, the real work Evolve does is to provide peer mentors for substance misusing offenders within Surrey. These peer mentors build relationships, share their experience and use their expertise in addiction to challenge, motivate and consequently reduce the likelihood of these offenders committing further offences in the local communities.
Despite initial reservations, by the end of the first year of operation 95% of offenders who had had contact with a mentor found them helpful in their recovery. Comments collected from an independent review of Evolve stated offenders “feel more motivated to make changes in their life.” and “believe it is possible to reduce or stop their alcohol/drug misuse.”
This is exactly what Louisa was aiming for when setting up Evolve. She comments “many of our service users have multiple and complex needs and have often experienced significant trauma and been victims of crime themselves. By providing and working with peer mentors who have had similar experiences (and who are often known of by the service user), we can build relationships, improve trust and challenge behaviours quicker than before therefore reducing the risk of harm to the public.”
Some examples of the individuals Evolve have worked with are:
VM: an entrenched drug user whose father introduced him to Heroin and was the victim of neglect and psychological abuse as a child. VM had a series of meetings with an Evolve peer mentor and his probation officer to help him to move forward with his life and away from addiction. VM had started to believe it was not possible to escape addiction and was becoming increasingly hopeless. His work with an Evolve peer mentor provided a real life example of someone who had come though the other side of addiction successfully. VM stated “Meeting Charlotte was amazing. I had only met people who had failed at giving up before, and then she showed me it was possible.”
SL: a poly drug and alcohol user whose mother sold her to a local man at the age of 11. This man and his friends went on to sexually exploit her and introduced her to class A drugs. She is also the victim of domestic violence both as a child and an adult. SL was very motivated, but had a tendency to self-sabotage any progress she made. Working with a peer mentor she was able to move towards her goal of becoming a gym instructor and enrolled with a local college.
ZB: a persistent petty offender (usually public order offences) resulting her alcohol use. ZB was the victim of rape and had very little self-confidence, she used the support of an Evolve peer mentor in a group setting. The support offered to her was crucial in helping her maintain her attendance and engagement with the course. She stated that “without knowing Caroline would be there every week, I never would have made it.”
These are just some of the cases Evolve peer mentors have worked with and helped. On average each of the peer mentors volunteer around 400 hours a year to support substance misusing offenders within Surrey. This is a significant commitment from individuals who only a few months before may have been reporting to the same probation offices under direction from a court. So what is it that keeps the mentors volunteering?
Peter, a peer mentor for Evolve stated “right from the first interview she (Louisa) had an amazing ability to make you feel welcome and comfortable…through the peer mentor training she showed great encouragement, advice, listened well without judgement or criticism, approachability was second to none and always ready to assist and support whenever it was needed….I am very happy to have been a part of Evolve and to know that you are helping to reach out and help make a difference is really empowering. Mentoring has given me that opportunity and has made me feel a part of society again.”
It is clear from Peters’ comments, that for him the support he has received as a mentor was as rewarding and important as the support he was giving others. Louisa Crowsley (peer mentor co-ordinator) stated she had spent a lot of time researching why there seems to be a high turnover of volunteers in many charitable organisations. She found that many other organisations spent a lot of time recruiting volunteers, but once they had signed up there was a general lack of support and development. This resulted in a high turnover of volunteers and constant need to recruit. “I realised it was very important for Evolve that firstly we recruited the right people to be peer mentors, and secondly that once we had those people we would do all we could to support and develop them as individuals. I did not want them to remain peer mentors forever, but to realise their own potential and move forward, not to become disillusioned and risk them returning to a life of crime and substance use. I knew that taking on peer mentors so close to their own recovery was risky for everyone involved and I didn’t want Evolve to amplify that risk in any way.”
It seems that Louisa has achieved her aims with 47% of peer mentors leaving Evolve to move into paid employment, and 20% undertaking education courses in addition to the Level 2 qualification in Mentoring achieved during training. With all this success the question is where does Evolve go from here?
Unfortunately, Evolve was set up in a team which was de-commissioned in March 2015 meaning that the scheme does not currently exist. However, Kent Surrey and Sussex CRC (KSS CRC) fully intend to re-start the scheme in the future when other Public Health contracts are won in any of the three counties.