Transported to the magical Dials Green Farm animal sanctuary in Lottisham, Somerset, this week, 15 ex-offenders from Bristol, Street and Bridgwater, many from broken homes, enjoyed connecting moments with mistreated rescued animals – such as pigs, horses, goats and ducks - which reflected the challenges the men had faced in their own lives.

The innovative animal therapy workshop, which included equine therapy with rehabilitated horses, helped the young men move through negative behaviours and take steps towards a brighter future. The workshop marked the start of a 7-Step rehabilitation programme with crime-prevention charity Key4Life for men who have been to prison or are at risk of going to prison.

Kai, a 22-year-old participant who has been to prison twice for drugs and violence offences said: “I was scared of the horses at first, I’ve never been so close to a horse before. But as I stroked them they started to calm me down, they took me out of my head and helped me release my anger.”

During this first step of the six month programme, spanning two days, the men were also introduced to other techniques for helping them move through negative behaviours, including music therapy, boxing, emotional release work and football sessions hosted by longstanding Key4Life partner, QPR,

In the music workshop, led by ex-offender Kieran Barfield who now works as a full time case worker and Key Mentor for Key4Life, participants were guided to find ways to channel their self-expression before being invited to perform their own songs. “Out on the street there is a stigma against talking about how you feel and people shut down emotionally,” Kieran explained. “So we encourage the men to use music to express their feelings and release all the pent-up thoughts in their heads.”

Sam, a 31 year old participant on the programme, who has been in prison 14 times for crimes ranging from drug dealing and burglaries to kidnapping, said: “It’s amazing what Key4Life do for men like me. Many of the guys running the programmes can relate to where you’ve come from because they’ve had the same experience. If you’re in trouble they will help you, it’s like joining a big safe family unit.”

Other key stages of key4Life-s 7-step model include:

  • Mentoring (supporting the men with their recovery)
  • Working with families
  • Employability training, work placements and employment
  • Training the men to become Key Mentors so they can use their experience to benefit others starting out on their rehabilitation journeys

  • Eva Hamilton MBE, Founder and CEO of Key4Life, said: “Key4Life has an unrivalled track record for reducing youth re-offending. The charity’s programme participants are four times less likely to reoffend than the national average and four times more likely to be employed a year post release. I believe our Equine and music therapy sessions are pivotal to our success, they are extremely effective tools for helping our young men address the emotions that stand in the way of their progress.”

    Nina Harris, who co-owns the animal sanctuary with her husband Toby, said: “Working with our rehabilitated animals today was very symbiotic for the young men who were totally enchanted with them and they responded extremely well to the horse therapy. These last two days have been an important first step on their recovery journeys which they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

    For more information about Key4Life visit their website.