“Step out of the history that is holding you back.

Step into the new story you are willing to create.”

-Oprah Winfrey


Our Story

Essence (formerly known as Kahaila-Reflex) began in 2012 when Kahaila, a café church based in East London, joined with national youth offending charity, Reflex, to have a positive impact on our local community by working with young women in London prisons. 

We started as a part-time project one day a week in HMP Holloway in 2012, and slowly grew over the next 4 years to become a full time project working not just in the prison, but also in the community with the women after their release. HMP Holloway closed in 2016 and so our project relocated to another women’s prison in Greater London, where we have been based since then.

As a church and charity, we believe wholeheartedly that those in prison deserve a second chance and are worth investing in.

We are committed to helping women in prison to discover that they have intrinsic worth and something to offer; empowering them to move forward into positive futures. 

Since 2012, we have provided mentoring, outreach, chaplaincy support and innovative and accredited 'myLife' courses to over 500 women. Each one vibrant, talented and unique, with a great deal to offer society. 

What We Do



A study on Youth justice carried out in 2012 by the Centre for Social Justice found,
‘...many young people in custody do not have the stable and positive relationship with adults that are fundamental to successful rehabilitation. One-to-one voluntary support, such as mentoring, can help fill these gaps...’ 

At Essence, everything we do is based upon building and sustaining positive relationships with the women we work with. Whether that be through working with women on a weekly basis through one-to-one myLife courses, or engaging in regular mentoring and pastoral support sessions.

We want every woman we work with to know that we value them as an individual, and we are committed to supporting them in whatever way we can. 



MyLife consists of 12 innovative education courses based on subjects and themes that young offenders themselves have expressed an interest in. For example, Managing Emotions; Relating to Others; Independent Living – Independent Growth; and Money.

The courses are accredited by OCR, which means the women’s work can be recognised by potential employers upon release.

MyLife is different to other courses because its values are not only based around promoting the external development of life skills, but it also focuses on the internal growth of character that contributes to lifelong learning and stops offending behaviour. 

MyLife allows space for young women in prison to tell their story, share their experiences, and express how they hope to move forward with their life positively.



Reintegrating back into the community after spending time in prison is a hugely difficult transition to make. The challenge is heightened if the women feel alone in this struggle, without positive people around them to support them and offer encouragement and help. The skills they learned and progress they made in prison can seem a million miles away and no longer relevant.

Since January 2016, we have been able to offer Through-the-Gate support to the young women we work with; walking alongside them after their release from prison.

In this role we are able to provide practical support and assistance in tasks, alongside vital pastoral and mentoring support. Practical support could include form-filling, accompanying them to meetings and appointments, and signposting to relevant community agencies and employment and training opportunities. 


Chaplaincy support

Essence is a project of Kahaila; a church, café and charity based in East London. It is out of Kahaila’s commitment to having a positive social impact that Essence was born. Being a church project means that faith is an important part of who we are, so our base in the prison is with the Chaplaincy department and a key part of our work is to support their work there.

We do this through assisting with chapel services and chaplaincy courses, offering a safe space for women wanting to explore questions of faith and by providing pastoral support to the prison community wherever needed. 

It is important to us as project that we are faith-based but not faith-biased, and we work with women from all faiths and none. 

Kahaila has also helped to start three other charitable projects, who we are proud to partner with:

Kahaila Brew - www.kahaila.com

Ella’s - www.ellas.org.uk

Luminary Bakery - www.luminarybakery.com