Posted on: Wed 13 Mar 2013

Gary Cahill was joined by Minister for Prisons and Rehabilitation Jeremy Wright at Cobham on Tuesday as we celebrated the Chelsea Foundation's Unlocking Potential programme.

Run by the Chelsea Foundation, Unlocking Potential is a ground-breaking initiative designed to deter participants from criminal activity. It is funded through the Premier League and the PFA's Creating Chances scheme and Essex County Council.

The innovative project targets vulnerable young people both in and outside prison and works with them to reduce offending and re-offending. The programme works with inmates from Chelmsford Prison and young people from Basildon, Jaywick and Canvey Island in Essex. The scheme also increases participants' employability and provides new opportunities either within the Chelsea Foundation or local colleges.

This is done through a number of means, often using the power of football to engage young people. A key element of Unlocking Potential is to deter young people away from criminal behaviour and negative decision-making by taking them into Chelmsford prison to learn about prison life and the long-term consequences of committing crime and holding a criminal record.

The prison visits are part of a peer-to-peer learning model as coaching sessions are delivered by prisoners who have been educated by the Chelsea Foundation. These sessions are delivered with supervision and support by qualified Chelsea Foundation staff.

The visits leave a powerful preventative message with participants and deter them from offending. The strong approach is designed so current prisoners can educate young people of the harsh realities of life behind bars as well as the short and long-term consequences of crime.

'This is a really positive programme which is going to benefit a lot of people,' Cahill said. 'The lads here today may be on the verge of making a few wrong decisions, or they may have even made them, but by giving them the chance to go into a prison and speak to people who have made their own wrong decisions and are in there as a consequence can make a real difference.

'It's also really beneficial for the prisoners, who get the chance to learn new skills through football and also help prevent these youngsters from making the same mistakes.'

Jeremy Wright MP feels the club is doing important work in the community, and wholeheartedly supported the scheme.

'For those young people involved in this scheme, the players here are heroes and role models, and what this club does is very important in sending out messages to those young people,' he said.

'I am particularly grateful that Chelsea, the PFA and the Premier League are taking an interest in the future of our young people. This scheme is about persuading young people to take the right path. Prevention is always better than cure, and this is a good scheme in promoting those two crucial halves of the game - rehabilitation and prevention.'

Also present was Nick Alston OBE, the Essex Police and Crime commissioner, who praised the Chelsea Foundation for its important work in the area.

'I commend these people here today who work with the kids day by day,' he said. 'I've got the job of spending money on crime reduction and I look forward to working with the Chelsea Foundation to put that money into the right place to stop young people offending, to intervene early in people's lives, and to give inmates a chance in prison, making it less likely they offend afterwards. Well done Chelsea, well done the Chelsea Foundation. This is a great project.'

'Well done Chelsea, well done the Foundation, well done for all you do. This is a great project.'

Michael O'Brien, head of youth services at Essex County Council, who was also at the event, added: 'I have never seen a quicker change in attitude from a group of people in my 26 years in youth services. Even the most brazen and self-assured young men were quickly squirming in their seats. This was real experiential learning that was more valuable than any other diversionary programme that I have come across.

'I would really like to see the project develop into a permanent nationwide project as it ticks so many boxes in support of reducing crime and the prison population. Not only is it a great diversionary project but it gives the prisoners an opportunity to give something back and to reflect on their own life journey.'