Meet John, one of our Family Services and Casework volunteers

The smallest gestures can mean as much as more complex support.

I first got involved with Pact because I wanted to utilise my skills in a setting that would really benefit people and with a charity that was aligned with my values. I’ve now been volunteering for Pact for almost two years and my favourite part of the role is the face-to-face contact with people who use our services – attempting to put them at ease or trying to solve a problem that is preventing them from achieving what they want to achieve.

I volunteer for two mornings a week doing Casework on the wings in the prison (and about an hour recording those meetings), one afternoon a week on the tea bar and then one weekend shift. A typical volunteer day for me starts with checking that the Family Centre is ready to receive visitors - that means making sure it is clean and tidy, that there are plenty of loo rolls and that the kettle is filled! I’ll answer any phone calls that come in and then go and visit men who have asked for support in the prison itself – that’s the Casework side of my role. Then I’ll go and collect the sandwiches for the tea bar (that’s what the café in the prison Visits Hall is called) and return to the Family Centre to prepare for the arrival of the families. After welcoming the visitors and answering any questions they might have, I’ll go through to the Visits Hall to open the tea bar and serve customers throughout the visit. I’ll always make sure the tea bar is stocked and clean. Sometimes I’ll then be able to go and join families and their loved ones to answer questions during the visit, and when the visit is over, I’ll cash up, clean up and return to the Family Centre to make sure that family members haven’t left any belongings behind – and to answer any more questions they might have as a result of their visit. Once everyone has left, I’ll clean up, lock up and head home.

I feel confident in my role as a volunteer as I was given an excellent induction and useful training in topics such as data collection, security, safeguarding and casework. I also have good onsite support from the paid staff team who work alongside me. Volunteering has taught me plenty of new skills, too. It has deepened my understanding of the criminal justice system and of the interaction between individuals and the prison as an institution. My role as a volunteer has helped me to be able to mediate and negotiate between them.

Whilst I don’t think volunteers are a special breed, I do think volunteers need to be able to offer a special set of skills. Volunteers need a combination of resilience, empathy, patience, respect for the dignity of others, integrity, and a clear understanding of the need to learn and apply the policies and rules of the service they’re volunteering in. It sounds like a lot but anyone can do it if they want to!

Although volunteering with Pact is sometimes a raw experience, there is tremendous satisfaction to be drawn from supporting someone to meet their (sometimes very simple) needs. If you’re thinking about volunteering with Pact, I’d say be prepared to get involved with people who are sometimes experiencing deep feelings of loss and distress, either though being in prison or through losing their loved ones. Be ready to learn from them and from the Pact team through the training and support on offer. Understand that the smallest gestures: a warm greeting, a cup of tea or providing a telephone number can mean as much as more complex involvement in someone’s access to their children. You really can make a difference.

Find out more about John's experience by watching his video:

If you want to find out more about John's role or if you have any questions about volunteering with Pact, get in touch with us on [email protected].