New Christian charity to help ex-offenders start over

Volunteers will get to work this week helping former prisoners from north Wales start a new life as part of a new scheme being launched on Thursday.

BARA, Welsh for bread, is a new Christian agency that helps ex-offenders find accommodation or deal with alcohol and other substance misuse, as well as giving encouragement with work, education and leisure. BARA volunteers also support offenders’ families as they come to terms with the absence of a husband, son or father, and then help them to adapt upon their release.

Twenty volunteers from Caernarfon churches have already been trained to support ex-offenders and their families and the scheme is expected to expand to other parts of north Wales in the near future.

The Rev Nan Powell-Davies is BARA’s co-ordinator and a chaplain in Altcourse Prison, Liverpool, who says it can be hard for former prisoners to rebuild their lives on their return to north Wales.

“The name BARA conveys a most basic need. One of our society’s greatest needs is to reduce reoffending and give offenders and their families a greater purpose in life," she says.

"Rural Wales is suffering greatly as society falls apart: schools closing, village shops closing and even pubs closing. Ex-offenders and their victims must be able to live together in these communities. One of BARA’s visions is to acknowledge the worth of these communities, placing the responsibility of caring for ex-offenders and helping their families on these communities.”

She said churches in Wales were facing an emergency as a result of holding onto buildings and traditions.

"BARA is a golden opportunity for us to get our hands dirty and think of others. ‘I was in prison’ said Jesus – and what did we do as churches? Pity you? Or visit you?!" she said.

“As churches, our role isn’t to shut ourselves in for an hour on Sunday in large damp chapels, but rather, to respond with the love of God to society’s deepest needs.”

Michael Farmer QC, chair of BARA’s support group, also voiced his support for the scheme: “Anyone who works in criminal justice acknowledges that prisones need practical help to reconnect with society. Anybody that offers such help deserves every support.”

BARA will be launched at the North Wales Criminal Justice Conference at Venue Cymru, Llandudno.