An Eastbourne organisation which works with ex-offenders, addicts and members of the community who are – for whatever reason – socially excluded and helping them turn their lives around is fast gaining a reputation for its success rate.
In the last two years Reformed East Sussex has helped countless people rebuild their lives, focus, stop offending, get employment and lead fulfilling lives.
It has attracted praise from Sussex Police, the probation service, politicians, business leaders and last year its executive officer Charmaine Sewell was commended by Home Secretary Amber Rudd for her hard work and dedication – and results.
Charmaine heads up the social enterprise company and knows how hard it can be for some people on the edges of society.
A former drug and alcohol user, Charmaine set the organisation up after experiencing first hand the challenges of having a criminal record, being in prison and experiencing discrimination related to her offending past.
She left her family home at the age of 14 and within a year was living on the streets abusing drugs and alcohol.
Spells in and out of prison followed until one day in her early 20s she walked into an organisation like Reformed.
Struck by the support she was given and the case worker’s belief in her, she says she felt inspired to change her life.
Charmaine began volunteering and later found employment supporting ex-offenders and those in recovery.
Then came the idea of Reformed. In 2014 she was determined to focus on it full time. She started working voluntarily, building the business and applying for funding and in 2015, she had gained sufficient income to become the sole employee.
She has grown the business in the last two years to cover both Eastbourne and Hastings. The Eastbourne office is at 97-99 Seaside Road on the corner with Cavendish Place and the Hastings branch is at Jackson Hall in Portland Place.
Charmaine says she has used her personal experience to lead by example and empower people who feel “stuck in a rut” to achieve positive change in their lives through volunteering, training and employment opportunities.
“Reformed reaches out to those people who are marginalised, without support and living on the fringes of the local community,” said Charmaine.
“We help them rebuild their lives using appropriate ‘reformed’ tools to regain their confidence, up their skill set and become self-reliant and lead a fulfilling and meaningful life.
“We know that in principle it is these groups that find it harder to secure and then hold employment without specialist on-going support.
“Some are homeless or living in unsuitable or insecure housing. Many do not access formal health care or even claim benefits they are entitled to.
“The often occurring concern is the constant danger of re-offending or relapsing to survive their circumstances. At Reformed we will provide them with the help they need to overcome all these barriers and secure employment overall.
“Our current service users have told us their biggest challenge is the lack of wraparound support linked to appropriate training and volunteering opportunities which makes it harder to secure employment and to maintain it.
“As an organisation running for the last two years now we are looking to work more closely with local support organisations to develop a hub of specialists to further the aims and aspirations of our clients.
“We want to build a network of support providing social inclusion and reducing stigma, segregation and discrimination.
“We offer accredited training and work with people on their presentation, interview skills and developing their CV.
“We also help find work, often voluntary in the first instance, with local businesses to give someone the chance to build their self-esteem, improve their skills and become used to being back at work.”
Former Sussex Police detective Paul Sellings was so impressed with the results and the drop in re-offending rates by those helped at Reformed, he became a director.
“I am convinced that Reformed is making a positive difference to people’s lives on a daily basis,” said Mr Sellings.
“This leads to fulfilling and rewarding lives, heightened community safety and the effect of offending on the local economy drastically reduced.”
Former Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell also praised Charmaine’s work and arranged for her to meet Home Secretary and Conservative Hastings MP Amber Rudd.
Mrs Ansell said, “I spoke at length to Amber about Reformed and what it wants to achieve and she was impressed, not only as Hastings MP, but also as Home Secretary.”
The current MP for Eastbourne Stephen Lloyd is also now looking at ways to help Reformed with its vital work.
Charmaine has the backing of a number of local employers willing to offer clients jobs but needs more – and soon.
“We need local employers to support us and the community at large by giving us the chance to turn their lives around,” she said.
Funding is also a major issue if Reformed is to continue its good work.
In the past it has received financial help from East Sussex County Council, Sussex Police, Community Safety Partnership and Devonshire West Big Local.
Charmaine said, “Reformed has made an impression and is recognised throughout Eastbourne and Hastings as making a difference to individual lives.
“However, with limited funding provided we are always seeking further investment and would be very interested in hearing from anyone wishing to assist in our growth and future success.”
Charmaine can be contacted at Reformed East Sussex on Eastbourne 419514 or Hastings 01424 718237.