Releasing people from prison into homelessness is a huge problem with no safe, viable or cost-effective solutions in place, or on the table. Private landlords won’t touch prison-leavers (and Universal Credit couldn’t afford the private rent). Prisoners go straight to the bottom of the list for social housing. It’s an almost hopeless situation.
A viable solution
In February 2023, the Community Knowledge Fund grant, funded by UKRI and administered by The Young Foundation, put a brave foot forward by supporting my organisation – which, at that time, was an unknown and unestablished social enterprise called Own Merit CIC. We were looking to work with prisoners to find a viable, workable solution to the prison-leaver housing crisis.
With the wind in our sails from winning the grant, we approached the visionary prison director, John Mclaughlin OBE. John sees potential in the incarcerated community – to the extent that he has even appointed a former prisoner to his senior leadership team. Yet, at first, John laughed when we said we could solve the prison-leaver housing issue with the help of prisoners, working together to establish a registered Household of Multiple Occupation (HMO). But, after some time, John welcomed us to work in HMP Five Wells in Northamptonshire.
He then went further and put his faith in Steve Gallant – an ex-prisoner and co-founder of Own Merit CIC. John gave Steve a platform to share his personal journey from incarceration to transformation with over 100 men at HMP Five Wells. And that account made our project relatable and authentic, igniting hope and driving a determination for change.
Co-creation behind bars
Regular workshops with the men inside HMP Five Wells became the crucible for the Own Merit CIC operating model. Together, we forged a path towards empowerment, safety, and a sense of belonging. And our plan for an HMO for prison-leavers came together.
While at HMP Five Wells, we worked with men who played an active role in creating the rules for this house, a unique referral system, and a framework that would guide them toward rebuilding their lives upon release.
The negotiations paid off – and in May 2023, we hosted a launch event at our six-bedroom property, welcoming the arrival of our first resident. Our second followed in June.
Own Merit’s vision is to create a system where rents remain affordable while motivating residents to engage with each other – and ultimately support one another to move on, making space for the next prison-leaver. This is a self-supporting model where everyone brings their unique abilities to the table. It’s an innovative approach built on trust, responsibility, and the belief that men who are empowered can achieve better outcomes. It’s about giving agency to those who often face oppression and strict management.
Challenges and triumphs
The journey has not been without its challenges, but we have witnessed remarkable transformations in the prison-leavers we’ve met. The peer-led support approach empowers residents, creating a shared sense of responsibility and accountability, while technology and practical strategies ensure safety.
With the Community Knowledge Fund grant, Own Merit CIC has experienced the power of collaboration, innovation, and, most importantly, the power of listening to communities to affect positive social change. By working together, offering a hand up rather than a handout, we are proving that empowering individuals can lead to brighter futures and stronger communities. And with each resident who finds success, we take another step closer to creating a more inclusive and compassionate society for all.
Darryn Frost and Steve Gallant met during the London Bridge terror attack in 2019, and went on to launch the social enterprise, Own Merit CIC. In 2023, they both received the Queen’s Gallantry Medal (QGM) for their actions tackling a terrorist at Fishmonger’s Hall.