A new centre in Bridgwater offering support to female low-level criminals will be officially opened today.
The Nelson Trust Women's Centre is based in King Square.
It will be opened by Avon and Somerset's Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens.
It will offer what's being described as 'holistic support' in a women-only environment.
The Nelson Trust’s women’s centres provide life-changing interventions for over 950 women and their families each year across Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Avon and Somerset.
Niki Gould, Head of Women’s Community Services at The Nelson Trust, said: "We're already working with over 150 women in Somerset through our outreach services.
"The women we have opened this centre for, have often experienced previous trauma, such as childhood neglect or abuse, many have been in abusive relationships; the women may have substance misuse problems or mental health issues, living in inadequate or unsafe housing, or may be homeless.
"Many women may have children and need support with their care to break the cycle of adverse childhood experiences and for many women, they are facing multiple challenges at the same time.
"The women we work with are often experiencing multiple vulnerabilities, where mental health issues, poverty, abusive relationships and lack of support may lead women into criminal behaviour.
"We offer holistic support and value the relationships we build with women to work alongside women encouraging empowerment.
"For example women may shoplift several times to feed their children, and end up in prison for a short time, which means their children are taken into care, they lose their home, and when they come out of prison they might not get suitable housing for the family.
"This creates a vicious cycle and a “catch 22” situation for women who are really no risk to society, and you can see how it leads to intergenerational trauma, and more offending. It's about how to break that cycle.
"The centre will also support women in the criminal justice system through community sentences as an alternative to short prison sentences, allowing women to maintain custody of their children and remain in accommodation.
"The women’s centre offers a wide range of services, including both practical and emotional help, support in accessing specialist services, one-to-one support, group activities and peer mentoring.
"The Centre offers a safe space with a creche facility, a washing machine and café area.
"Group activities include educational courses, workshops, drop-ins and groups - which cover well-being, life skills and creative activities."
Niki explained how they had helped one young woman turn her life around at The Nelson Trust:
"She was just 19 years old and had over 70 previous convictions, and had not been out of prison for more than five days at a time since she was 17. She drank heavily in order to deal with her previous experiences, as she had suffered significant trauma. She had been charged with public order offences and was homeless. We worked with her throughout her prison sentence and following release helping her find and sustain accommodation.
"Now of course a miracle did not happen straight away – but her times in the community and out of prison got longer and longer, and she started to reduce her offending. Over time we built up trust and addressed the many challenges she was facing including her previous trauma and alcohol misuse. She had a lot of one-to-one intensive help around self-harming.
"She accessed help for about four years, and just recently I met her again and she has been employed for two years full time, has a stable relationship, and has not been drinking for two years – she has completely transformed her life. Now she will come along with me, to help train other professionals to respond to women in a trauma informed way, not to judge and to never give up on the possibility of change – I would love her to work for our organisation, so her experience can be used in a positive way to help other women, they would listen to her. There is real power in women empowering women."
The Nelson Trust has received national recognition for their approach and the work they undertake. Rose Mahon, Head of Excellence at the Nelson Trust, was named Criminal Justice Champion at the prestigious Howard League for Penal Reform’s Community Awards.
Niki received an Outstanding Achievement Award by the Longford Trust, for her work supporting women in prison.