A search has been launch for volunteers to work with former sex offenders as part of a pioneering programme in North Wales that has a 100% success rate.

The aim of the Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) programme is to keep the community safe and since it started in North Wales in 2007 none of the offenders taking part has gone on to re-offend.

The project operates across all six counties in the region and each offender is teamed with trained volunteers of diverse backgrounds, ages and professions.

The volunteers go through a rigorous risk assessment and selection process before they can sign up via HM Prison and Probation Service who run the scheme.

The ex-offender is considered as the core of the circle and will meet weekly with the team which offers a solid network of counselling, support and guidance on reintegrating into community life.

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones has hailed the project’s achievements and appealed for more volunteers from North Wales to come forward to support its life-changing work.

“Circles continues to prove that people can and will change their behaviour with the appropriate support, intervention and guidance from their community,” he said.

“Supporting the safe integration of sex offenders is vital to preventing further victims of abuse and keeping our communities safe in the long term.

“This programme is of enormous value to North Wales and I’m very proud of its success over the years. We simply cannot under estimate its impact on community safety."

Each “circle” consists of four to six volunteers and involves regular once-a-week meetings to tackle isolation and help core members build confidence and self-esteem to develop appropriate interests and hobbies.

Volunteers are fully informed of the core member’s past offending and help them recognise patterns of thought and behaviour that could lead to their re-offending.

Heather Evans, COSA’s project coordinator for North Wales, said: “COSA is a community-based scheme which provides complementary support to statutory risk management and supervision arrangements in the monitoring and reintegration of sexual offenders. The priority is to reduce further sexual offending and prevent future victims.

“Volunteers support core members to reduce their isolation by providing emotional and practical help and enabling them to develop positive social activities and networks while also holding them accountable for their actions.

“Circle volunteers are highly valued by the service. Potential applicants are recruited, screened and trained to provide a structured support network and are supervised and supported by appropriate professionals throughout the period of contact with offenders. The system has proved extremely effective in North Wales and volunteers have been successfully supporting the reintegration process of sexual offenders for the past 12 years.”

All ‘circle’ meetings are held in public and can take place in coffee shops or libraries. It is a completely voluntary programme and ex-offenders consent to being involved.

“For anyone considering volunteering, I would say don’t be put off by what people say,” said student Heidi, one of the volunteers.

“People can be quite hesitant and quick to judge, even now. It’s important to be aware of what people think but don’t let it affect your own judgement.”

In 2010, Circles UK, the umbrella group for all ‘Circles’ projects across the country, received the coveted Longford Award in recognition of its courage tackling sexual offending through community volunteers.

Volunteers are needed from across North Wales but particularly in the Conwy, Denbighshire, Gwynedd and Môn area.

Welsh speaking volunteers would also be helpful.

For more information visit: Circles-uk.org.uk or email Heather.evans@justice.gov.uk.