Something remarkable is happening!
Less than two years after prisons welcomed back our in-person programmes following the Covid-19 pandemic, demand for Sycamore Tree courses in prisons across England and Wales is higher than ever before!
When I was appointed Chief Executive of Prison Fellowship in 2015, one of the first things I decided was that all of our programmes should be free for the people in prison who need our support. With this in mind, in early 2016, I wrote to all Prison Fellowship volunteers and supporters saying this:
‘I’ve been praying about how our ministry can be available for free wherever it is needed. It’s a change to the way that we’re funded, and here’s why I think it’s the right approach:
‘To me, it’s not acceptable that people in prison miss an opportunity to learn about victim awareness because a prison cannot afford to fund a Sycamore Tree course. But this change puts a sizeable hole in our income. There is a price to both maintaining and expanding our ministry. And delivering courses for free creates an extra burden on our finances in the long term—one which we currently cannot afford.’
What a blessing it is that demand for Sycamore Tree is so high this year! However, we once again find ourselves in a situation where we do not have the resources to deliver such a large number of courses. But, I do not want to deny anyone in prison the opportunity to reflect on the impact of their crimes through Sycamore Tree. And so, I am writing today to urgently ask for your help.
It is thanks to God’s goodness, the dedication and hard work of volunteers and the generosity of donors that throughout the last seven years, each interaction between Prison Fellowship and a person in prison has been provided free of charge.
Even through the Covid-19 pandemic, when our in-person programmes were postponed and many charities struggled to survive, we were blessed by the creation of Prayer Line and Bible Studies. And you stood with us, ensuring that we could support each person in prison who needed our help.
But Covid-19 has had a lasting impact on our programming. The postponement of Sycamore Tree now means more people in prison than ever are waiting to take the course. And, on top of this, with 92% of our Sycamore Tree graduates stating that they would recommend the course to others in their prison, demand has never been higher. Two years ago, the pandemic meant that we were only able to run four Sycamore Tree courses. This year, we are expecting to run more courses than ever before. That’s up to 3,000 people learning about the impact of their crime and walking away from prison for the final time—97% of last year’s graduates say they can build a crime-free life because they have taken part in Sycamore Tree.
Having recently completed the course, Emma writes, ‘It has made me realise that my future can be so positive through all I have learnt in Sycamore Tree. Sycamore Tree has 100% helped improve my life and my outlook on all things.’
Harry, another Sycamore Tree graduate tells us, ‘It’s definitely made me more aware of victim impact and much less likely to offend.’
But you see, while stories like Emma’s and Harry’s should be celebrated, a record demand for Sycamore Tree courses brings a considerable financial commitment for Prison Fellowship.
Each course costs £3,600 to run. Therefore, I have found myself praying once again about how our ministry can be available for free wherever it is needed. And how Sycamore Tree can be delivered in more prisons than ever before this year for every person who wants to take part.
Right now, I am aware that there are many demands on your money. The cost of living crisis is having a substantial impact on us all. But please can I ask you to prayerfully consider supporting our life-changing ministry with a gift today? Your support will help us to continue to deliver Sycamore Tree for free to anyone in prison.
I want to leave you with what Tariq told me after he graduated from Sycamore Tree: ‘The programme enabled me to comprehend how deep the effects of a crime can go and how many people can be affected by the crime. I think this course has had a huge effect for the future as I wouldn’t want to be that person that causes so much pain.’
Quite simply, there are no other large-scale victim awareness and restorative justice courses being run in our prisons. The impact of Sycamore Tree will be felt not only inside the prison gates, but also across the communities where our graduates will soon make a new start.
Yes, I will make a donation.
Your gift will help us continue to support men and women in prison through this crisis, and emerge stronger and ready to reach even more people in Christ’s name. Thank you!
Peter Holloway is the Chief Executive of Prison Fellowship England and Wales.