Concord Associates, a therapeutic and training consultancy, were asked in 1999 by HMP Holloway to set up courses in basic counselling skills for inmates who were Befrienders (Samaritan trained listeners who help other inmates in distress). The Head of Education was keen that these inmates should have their skills recognised through the award of a certificate. After discussions, Middlesex University agreed to accredit the course to FHEQ Levels 3 and 4, enabling those who reached the required standard to use these credit points to go on to further studies on release, or by day release, if appropriate (open prisons).

A pilot of three courses at HMP Holloway were deemed to be a success and we were then asked to do the same at HMP Pentonville. Through the award of a small grant we were able to deliver two courses there. Because the courses were so successful, we would like to have introduced them into other prisons, particularly those to which inmates from Holloway and Pentonville were being transferred. Due to lack of funding, we were unable to do so.

At that time we were a not-for-profit training consultancy, dedicated to the development of this project. All the trusts we approached were sympathetic but unable to award grants to any organisation other than registered charities. We therefore applied to become a registered charity, which we were able to set up in August 2004. Almost immediately, we received grants to cover another five courses and an infrastructure grant. This enabled us to employ a part-time administrator/fundraiser.

Due to this expansion of our work, we advertised in our professional journal for experienced counsellor/trainers and were overwhelmed by the response. From a shortlist we held a selection day, followed by a two-day induction course. We now have a team of 18 excellent freelance trainers.