Mentoring with Belong

Founded in 2010, Belong began as a grassroots organization, mainly delivering mentoring to young people in Greenwich, London. Over a decade later, mentoring interventions form one of Belong’s main interventions, alongside restorative justice and creative psychotherapy.

Belong deliver mentoring interventions in custodial and community environments, to children, young people and adults impacted by crime. Mentoring sessions are delivered either by Belong’s Mentoring Coordinator, one of Belong’s skilled Volunteers who work in the community and custody, or peer supporters- trained prisoner representatives offering mentoring in the form of Conflict Coaching in custody.

In this blog, we speak to Belong’s Mentor Co-ordinator, who explains the benefits of mentoring, and what makes Belong’s approach to mentoring different.

Why mentoring works:

The success of mentoring programmes to support people impacted by crime is well evidenced by research which has demonstrated that one to one mentoring support, when delivered consistently by properly trained and supervised mentors, is associated with the following outcomes amongst young people and adults with convictions: 

  • Increases in literacy and numeracy skills, improvements in accommodation and family relations, and increased involvement in community activities (St James-Roberts et al., 2005);[i]
  • Positive attitudinal, social, and emotional changes (Bazron et al., 2006);[ii]
  • Enhanced interpersonal skills and relations with family and peers (Thompson & Zand, 2010).[iii]

Particularly promising results have been achieved when mentoring relationships have been established pre-release and then continued throughout the transition from prison to the community (Hucklesby & Wincup, 2014).[iv]

What does a mentoring session with Belong look like?

Belong’s mentoring delivery model focuses on enhancing protective factors and reducing risk factors, reflecting our belief that people can change and rehabilitate. Mentoring provides high-levels of support: goal-directed, wraparound support, with a trauma-informed and restorative focus, as part of multi-agency team, and via a range of activities.

“Mentors work through issues with the mentees, taking an asset-based approach by supporting and empowering service-users to overcome barriers and work towards progression, no matter how small”

The content of mentoring interventions varies depending on the needs of the mentee and the goals of the mentoring. This could include practical support, support with relationships, conflict resolution skills, or emotions and wellbeing.

Mentoring interventions are individualised to the service user and tailored to their specific needs.

Here, we speak to Belong’s Mentoring Co-ordinator, who explains why Belong’s approach to mentoring is different:

“Belong’s approach to mentoring is person-centered and tailored to the individual. The funding for the mentoring project allows us to work with any offence and any age group. We can work with quite a variety of people that are often not eligible for support from other organisations.

We also make the individual aware at the start that the service is voluntary. I feel that this encourages engagement as it makes the service user aware that the programme is not mandatory.

We try to give the individual as much control and responsibility as possible. Rather than having a pre-determined and mapped out structure that some other mentoring projects may use, we will sit down with the individual to discuss which areas of their life they need help with, and we then take it week by week. If things change along the way, that’s fine too.

We get to know the service users and figure out together what their goals and objectives are, and how we can best support them with achieving those. We let them know what kind of support Belong can offer.

“It is important that we believe in them and encourage them to reach their goals. We approach each case centered on the individual”

The way in which Belong’s approach to mentoring differs from other organisations is that we don’t have set targets that the mentee must hit for us to continue to work with them. We can be flexible and understand that some weeks, they might not want to do a practical task. Instead, they may just need a safe space to discuss something that’s on their mind. We’re very lucky in the fact that we can give them that space to discuss anything and not have to worry about hitting a target each session.

I’m aware that in some organisations, if mentees miss one or two sessions, the service may be closed due to “non-engagement”, whereas we are able to be a bit more flexible in those circumstances. When someone disengages with the service, we will work through barriers with an individual to get to the root of the issue.

Building rapport in the early stages is an important part of keeping a service user engaged. Giving mentees as much control and responsibility over the sessions as possible and letting them have as much freedom to navigate their support pathway also plays a big part in keeping people motivated, and engaged. Supporting them to complete the tasks and discuss the issues that are important to them, rather than following a rigid structure helps to create a space where they feel heard.

We also regularly ask them for feedback to ensure they are getting the best experience from our service. We will ask whether the service has been useful to them. We use questionnaires to help us see where they are in their journey. Importantly, we implement the feedback that we get from mentees into how we deliver mentoring, and how we train volunteers.

The type of activities a mentor completes with a mentee varies. At the start of the mentoring, we go through some questionnaires with our mentees. These include questionnaires about their wellbeing, their attitudes towards crime and where they are in different areas of their lives. We then use that information to decide which workbooks we will use during their support.

Belong has developed workbooks which target problem areas such as trauma, money management and conflict. These workbooks are completed over the course of a few weeks with the mentor.

Alongside the workbooks, we also have an informal approach to mentoring. We will have conversations around how they manage relationships, whether they need any support with employment, or how their day has been in custody/the community, etc.

The mentors also support the mentees with practical tasks, such as interview preparation, budgeting skills, CV writing, etc. If there is anything they need which is outside of our scope, we can signpost them to another service who can help.

I like to think Belong’s approach to mentoring is holistic and is a variation of support in many different areas of the mentees’ lives. We try to base each session around the individual and how they are feeling on that day.

Regarding matching mentors with mentees, I think it’s important that our mentors are willing to work with a variety of cases, and usually they’re the type of people open to working with anyone. However, we need to be aware of any conflicting issues, for example if they know the service user, or if they live in the same area.

Sometimes it works well if the mentor and mentee have similarities. For example, if they have children, they may share similar experiences, and that pairing can work very well together. This can be a bonus but generally, I’m confident that any of our mentors could work with any of our mentees.

I love mentoring with Belong as I’ve always enjoyed a chat, and I’m very fortunate that my role is talking to people.

“I feel very fortunate with the opportunities I’ve had in life, so if I can support people to understand the options they have, then that’s a bonus for me too”

I enjoy building that relationship, building the rapport, and encouraging people who haven’t necessarily had the same chances as me in life. I’m passionate about giving them hope, encouragement and recognition for what they’ve managed to achieve”.

What’s next for mentoring with Belong?

We are expanding our services to the West Midlands with our new project, Amplify, which will go live this year. This project will target young Black and Minority Ethnic women (BAME) who are experiencing the Criminal Justice System (CJS).

Young people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds experience disadvantages at every stage of the CJS, from over-representation, unequal treatment, and a lack of specific, relevant interventions. Something must change in policy and practice. Learning through ‘Amplify’ will contribute to a growing, crucial evidence base of ‘what works’, increasing the life chances of young women from BAME backgrounds nationally. Amplify takes into account research which demonstrates that if BAME people access gender specific, culturally relevant, age specific interventions in collaboration with staff who they can relate to, their chances of rehabilitation are improved. Amplify addresses the intersection of discrimination and disadvantage that young women from BAME backgrounds in the CJS face.

The weekly/fortnightly mentoring sessions at Amplify will provide holistic, tailored, one-to-one support whereby the young women will build their confidence and deal with issues relating to education, training, and employment; accommodation; health; drugs and alcohol; finance, benefit and debt; children and families; attitudes, thinking and behaviour. The mentors will be providing practical support, such as in CV writing, helping young people to apply for ETE.

If you would like to volunteer to be a part of mentoring with Amplify, please don’t hesitate to contact us on if you would like to be involved.



[i] St James-Roberts, I., Greenlaw, G., Simon, A. & Hurry, J. of the Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. National Evaluation of Youth Justice Board Mentoring Schemes 2001-2004. Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, 190.

[ii] Bazron, B. J., Brock, L., Read, N., & Segal, A. (2006). The mentoring tool-kit: Resources for developing programs for incarcerated youth (Unabridged version). Washington, D.C.: National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Children and Youth who are Neglected, Delinquent and At-Risk, U.S. Department of Education.

[iii] Zand, D., Thomson, N.R., Cervantes, R., Espiritu, R., Klagholz, D., LaBlanc, L., et al. (2009). The Mentor Youth Alliance: The role of mentoring relationships in promoting youth competence. Journal of Adolescence, 32, 1-17.

[iv] Hucklesby, A. & Wincup, E. 2014. Assistance, Support and Monitoring? The Paradoxes of Mentoring Adults in the Criminal Justice System. Journal of Social Policy, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp. 373-390.