Meet Lisa, one of our volunteer play workers.

I was made to feel instantly welcome and valued.

Q: How did you first come into contact with Pact?

I first heard about from my eldest's friend who was working for Pact at HMP Brixton in their gap year before university. I then went to lunch at The Clink restaurant and decided to contact Pact to enquire about being a play worker at my local prison in London. It all seemed to fall into place and I've been with Pact for years now.

Q: What made you want to volunteer with an organisation like Pact?

A: I chose to volunteer with Pact because they have a strong commitment to both prisoners and their families. I think it's so important to keep families connected if you can, especially as maintaining family ties is proven to help reduce reoffending. As an organisation, Pact also offers a wide range of services which means that there is lots of scope for professional development and the opportunity to experience different roles if you would like to. 

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your role?

A: I first started volunteering as a play worker, and I joined the most wonderful team at HMP Belmarsh where I was made to feel instantly welcome and valued. My role quickly grew from there: as well as being in the play area during a visit, I would help in the Visitors' Centre before and after visits. This involves supporting the families, (especially if it's their first visit and they are apprehensive), answering questions, listening to concerns and providing a cheerful 'hello' and 'goodbye'. Then, when Pact started running the Family Days in 2018, my role expanded again and I became the Family Day Coordinator. This involves planning and preparing for Family Days - longer visits that happen once a month - and the whole team gets stuck in with helping to put together the table activities for the families visiting their dads. My manager and I run the games and quizzes for the families while our queen of arts and crafts helps the families create the most amazing works of art that the guys can take back with them. That's all in normal times, of course!

When the lockdown happened and in-person social visits stopped, I still wanted to do what I could to help - even from home. Over the past year, I have put together and sent craft packs to the children of some of our families, as well as putting together a monthly in-cell pack for the guys of quizzes, puzzles, story writing ideas, poems and fun facts etc. I've also responded to a call for volunteers on the Prisoners' Families Helpline, so I've got to experience a different type of volunteering role, too.

Q: What makes you proud to volunteer for Pact?

A: I am proud to volunteer with Pact as it is very rewarding. The smallest gesture can make a big difference to someone's day. It's wonderful seeing a child leap into their dad's arms on a visit, or - on Family Days - cheering a father and child on as they take part in a relay race and witnessing the pride they feel when they win. The guys and their families are always so grateful and chuffed when they receive their prize. It is so heart-warming to be a part of that.

The Prisoners' Families Helpline is rewarding in a different way: a caller may start the call distressed and it is wonderful to hear them laugh by the end of the call. Prisoners can also call the Helpline and they are always so grateful for the help and advice they receive. Helping people feel that they are in a better place after speaking to me provides a sense of achievement.

Q: What new skills have you learned through your role?

A: The skills that I have learnt through my role are almost too numerous to list! I have learnt the importance of listening, being sympathetic, being patient and above all not being judgemental. Planning the Family Days has made me become even more creative in order to make the days as fun and varied as possible. My IT skills have been put to the test but I have mastered spreadsheets, thanks to working on the Helpline! Equally, formatting the in-cell packs for the guys has at times been challenging but I think that I may have cracked it! The Helpline has greatly increased my knowledge of prisons, the issues faced by both prisoners and their families and the services that are available. The learning also goes both ways, as I have learned new things from callers and thanked them for the information.

Q: What would you say to anyone who was thinking about volunteering with us?

A: I would highly recommend volunteering for Pact. It is very rewarding to feel that you are helping people and making a difference to their day. Helping families to maintain bonds through Family Days, and making visits fun by providing a play area which the children look forward to... There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a first-time visitor arrive looking frightened, and then leave smiling. It's a brilliant experience.

Find out more

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