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Refresh Cafe run by ex-prisoners is officially launched
A CAFE that helps prison inmates get back on their feet and into the community is officially launched today.
Oxfordshire Recovery Network’s Refresh cafe provides training and employment opportunities for ex-offenders and those recovering from addiction.
A group of inmates from Springhill Prison in Buckinghamshire regularly volunteer at the cafe in Cowley Road, which opened to customers in October thanks to a £50,000 grant from the Oxfordshire Drug and Alcohol Action Team.
Councillors and other guests have been invited to the launch.
Cafe manager Lee Giddings, himself a former inmate at Springhill Prison, said: “It is something I know can work because I have done it.
“It helps a lot because I have been to the same places they have been. It is just getting the confidence up and getting them to deal with customers.
“From the first week they were here there has been a drastic change – they could not even look people in the face before.”
The East Oxford 35-year-old said he was helped by a spell volunteering for Oxfordshire Mind at The Mill in Cowley Road during his time in prison.
Mr Giddings served six years for robbery and was released two years ago.
He added: “It is just giving them positive things to do and get direction. It is easy to fall back in to the old crowds.
“Really this place is about getting their confidence up and dealing with customers and showing they can do it.”
The cafe has about eight regular volunteers, including young people who have been excluded from school who help when the prison inmates are not there.
Glenda Daniels, service manager for Oxfordshire Recovery Network, said: “It has been fantastic. We get a lot of people who come in to the cafe to have lunch or meetings.”
She added: “The results that are realised with those we help are huge, with the potential to save thousands of pounds for each person we work with in unclaimed benefits and a lot more saved when the person leaves.
“The cost of one person not returning to prison is huge.”
All of those helped by the network have been drug users at some time or have been affected by a parent’s drug use.
Mr Giddings and Ms Daniels ran the cafe initially when it opened and the number of volunteers has gradually risen.