Sycamore Tree

Sycamore Tree is a volunteer-led victim awareness programme that teaches the principles of restorative justice. It is taught in prisons in groups of up to 20 learners, over a 6-week period. Learners on the programme explore the effects of crime on victims, offenders, and the wider community, and discuss what it would mean to take responsibility for their personal actions.

For most learners on Sycamore Tree the most powerful element of the programme is when a victim of crime comes in to talk through how crime has impacted their lives. Learners have an opportunity in the final session to express their remorse – some write letters, poems or create works of art or craft. Members of the community are invited to support and bear witness to these symbolic acts of restitution.

“It made me realise you can change and there are people out there to help you. It made me think about who I have affected and how they feel. I will leave here feeling I can change.”
– Sycamore Tree learner

ST is an accredited programme and is proven to change attitudes that contribute to reoffending. The content of the programme is consistent with the pathways determined by the Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation service (HMPPS) to reduce reoffending. The supportive group-based learning environment, connection with the community and highly economic structure, are just a few reasons why ST holds highly favourable endorsements from participants, staff and other stakeholders.

Between April 2017 to March 2018, we ran 127 Sycamore Tree courses in 44 prisons across England and Wales, allowing 2271 learners to explore the impact of their crime.

How can I get involved?

Sycamore Tree is run in prison by a team of PF volunteers. ST volunteer teams are made up of one Tutor and several Group Facilitators. Read the role descriptions below to find out more!
We love to invite supporters from the local community to attend the final session of the Sycamore Tree course, to support and witness the acts of restitution that many of the learners chose to make. This is a great way to learn more about the course, and we particularly welcome local church leaders who would like to attend. Please contact the PF Support Team to express your interest in attending.
It costs £180 for a prisoner to attend a Sycamore Tree course. We believe Sycamore Tree is changing lives every time it is run in a prison. Will you enable a learner to take a significant step towards a crime-free life after prison?

— Donate

Will you support a prisoner to choose the restorative path?

Sycamore Tree Roles

Volunteer
Tutor

Time required: 4-5 hours per week

When: A six week course, as scheduled by the prison

About the role:

The Sycamore Tree Tutor runs PF's 6-week ST victim awareness course in prison for up to 20 prisoners.
Volunteers must have a teaching qualification to be considered for the role.
Your role includes: preparing and delivering the course material provided and assessing workbooks; supporting and leading your existing group facilitators and helping to build the local Sycamore Tree team; training new group facilitators and victims of crime; and facilitating community members to come in for week 6 of the course.
You will be someone with leadership skills, sensitivity, a non-judgemental attitude, organised, and with a commitment to safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children/adults.
PF will provide you with ST Tutor training, and the Support Team is always available to advise and resource you.

Volunteer with us
Volunteer
Group Facilitator

Time required: 3-4 hours per week

When: A six week course, as scheduled by the prison

About the role:

The Group Facilitators work with the Sycamore Tree Tutor and support a small group of learners through the course.
Your role includes: assisting the tutor in delivering the ST course; facilitating small group discussions; having an understanding of the learners journey through the material; and completing post programme reports each week to track the learners progress.
You are comfortable facilitating small group discussions, a good listener, sensitive and non-judgemental, a team player and an encouragement to the learners, and committed to safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children/adults.
We will invite you on a training course, or have a local Tutor train you with the material we provide. You will be asked to act as a helper through the whole of a course with another group facilitator before leading on your own. Your course tutor and the PF Support Team are always available to advise and resource you.

Volunteer with us

What is Restorative Justice?

“Restorative practice supports people to recognise that all of their activities affect others and that people are responsible for their choices and actions and can be held accountable for them. It enables people to reflect on how they interact with each other and consider how best to prevent harm and conflict.” – Restorative Justice Council

Restorative Justice asks Offenders to face up to the impact of their crimes and to take responsibility for their actions, and it gives victims a greater voice in the criminal justice system.

A review of evidence by Professors Lawrence Sherman and Heather Strang of Cambridge University, found that in one study, the rate of re-conviction amongst those offenders participating in Restorative Justice was reduced by as much as 28%. [Restorative Justice: The Evidence, Sherman & Strang, The Smith Institute 2007]

Does it work?

An evaluation of Prison Fellowship’s Sycamore Tree Programme was undertaken by Sheffield Hallam University in 2009. The study took psychometric evaluations from 5,000 prisoners taking the course between 2005 and 2009. 13% of the overall sample were women and 17% were young offenders.

The evaluation found that:

  • Across the whole sample (5,000 prisoners) there were significant positive attitudinal changes that were statistically associated with completion of the programme;
  • The positive attitudinal changes were associated with all groups of prisoners and all institutional categories;
  • Both male and female prisoners demonstrated an increased awareness of the impact of their actions as well as a reduced anticipation of reoffending;
  • Both adults and young offenders demonstrated an increased awareness of the impact of their actions as well as a reduced anticipation of reoffending.

[An evaluation of the Sycamore Tree programme, August 2009, Hallam Centre for Community Justice: Sheffield Hallam University]

We recognise that the Sycamore Tree programme is one tool that we can offer men and women in prison as they do the hard work of turning their lives around. The journey of desistance is a life-long one, with many challenges and barriers to overcome, but so much of the feedback we receive shows that this course is a powerful and transformative moment on that journey for many learners.