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Pact's History

Women reading a pamphlet in a visitors' centre

Pact was established in 2001, as a result of the merger of the Bourne Trust and the Prisoners' Wives and Families Society (PWFS). Between them, the two organisations had 125 years' experience of working with prisoners and their families.

Introduction
The Bourne Trust was founded in 1898 by two Catholic lawyers, and was originally known as the Catholic Prisoners Aid Society. The Prisoners' Wives and Families Society was set up in 1975 when a group of prisoners' wives who had been meeting to support each other decided to launch a self-help organisation.

The Bourne Trust
The Bourne Trust started out as the Catholic Prisoners Aid Society. It was established in 1898 by two Catholic lawyers, and the original aim was to help Catholic prisoners - although in practice, help was offered to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The Bourne Trust was based in London, but operated nationwide. It helped prisoners in all sorts of ways - for example, finding work for ex-prisoners and providing them with lodgings and food. In 1905, a medical doctor was appointed to see and examine discharged prisoners free of charge. By 1923, the Trust was helping nearly 1,000 prisoners a year - not only by providing practical aid, but also by linking them up with local churches, schools, hospitals and employers.

Helping the families of prisoners
In 1950, the Trust set up a scheme to help the families of prisoners. As soon as the person went to prison, their parish priest was contacted to see whether they had a family in need. If so, parish societies were enlisted to offer support and help the family to prepare for the prisoner's return. Spiritual and material help continued after release.

'Above all, hope'
In 1959, 1,750 ex-prisoners called into the office. Each one was given a cash grant or food vouchers, as well as other assistance.

The annual report for that year says, "During the year, eight men and five women who were facing despair and misery by reason of attempted suicide were given assistance by finding accommodation, work and money, but above all, hope. The value of this work is indicated by the fact that in no case have we been notified of a subsequent suicide attempt."

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Housing issues
Over the years, the Trust tackled the problems of housing and homelessness with a number of innovative schemes. In 1966, the Trust formed the Hope Housing Association to alleviate the appalling conditions that some prisoners' families were living in. The following year, funds were raised to erect a prefabricated building to accommodate young ex-offenders.

In the same year, the Dedicated Landladies Scheme was launched; landladies were enlisted to provide rooms to young men newly released from prison, giving them a chance to find their feet and a job. In the first year, six landladies were found and 28 young men were helped.

In recent years
In 1980, the prison population stood at 44,626, and seaside holidays and Christmas treats were becoming regular annual events for an increasing number of prisoners' families, thanks to the charity.

In 1990, the organisation changed its name to the Bourne Trust. This was in honour of Cardinal Bourne, the head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, who had been the organisation's president from 1903 - 1935.

During the 1990s, the Bourne Trust opened Visitors' Centres at Wormwood Scrubs Prison and Belmarsh Prison. By 1997, over 10,000 people a year were using the Wormwood Scrubs Visitors' Centre and over 20,000 people had passed through Belmarsh Visitors' Centre.

The Prisoners Wives and Families Society (PWFS)
PWFS was set up in 1975 when a group of prisoners' wives who had been meeting to discuss their problems and support one another decided to launch a self-help organisation. They opened a house near Pentonville Prison which offered a drop-in service and overnight accommodation for people visiting London prisoners.

Founder member Pauline Hoare recalls: 'My incentive was to give something back. Because my parents had been so terrific, so supportive, when my own husband went to prison, I had to do something. There was nothing around for prisoners' families and I knew that there were women out there who didn't have a supportive family. PWFS was the first ever self-help organisation for prisoners' families.'

PWFS established a telephone helpline, which took up to 3,000 calls a year. In 1994, shocked by the sight of prisoners' wives and children lining up along the prison wall at HMP Pentonville within feet of thundering cars and lorries, PWFS persuaded the prison to give up a small room for use as a Visitors' Centre.

The merger
The idea for a merger of the Bourne Trust and PWFS was first floated in 1999. There was significant overlap in the services the two organisations were offering, and both groups had the same chairman, Robert Beech.

In 2001, the two organisations merged and became the Pact (Prison Advice and Care Trust). Today, Pact works at a number of prisons across England and Wales and more than 50,000 people use our services every year. We remain true to our Catholic roots - but we do not evangelise, and our services are open to anyone who needs them, regardless of their faith. We welcome people of all faiths as staff and volunteers.

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