National Volunteers' Week 2021 blog

As part of National Volunteers' Week 2021 we asked four volunteers to write us some short blogs about the work they do and why they do it. You can read the blogs from Frank and Kathy who give their time to Victim Support and Amanda and Alex who work as voluntary Restorative Justice (RJ) facilitators below. Victim Support receives funding from the PCC, while RJ is funded and facilitated by the PCC's office on her behalf.

If you're interested in finding out more about our Independent Custody Visitor (ICV) scheme which sees volunteers checking on the treatment of custody detainees and the conditions in which they’re held you can also read the regular blog from the ICV scheme manager.

Thank you so much to all of the hard working volunteers out there who give their time for free. Never has it been more vital and more appreciated than during the pandemic.

 

Frank - Victim Support

My name is Frank, and I have been a Volunteer Caseworker with Victim Support for nearly 10 years.

During this time, I have met with many people from all walks of life who have been affected by crime – whether it be antisocial behaviour, burglary, assault, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, or even homicide and murder. In each case, I have endeavoured to provide the victims with emotional and practical support to enable them to recover from the impact of crime.

This support was usually in the form of face-to-face visits, but during the restrictions imposed by Covid, I have maintained regular telephone contact with my clients. This has involved spending several hours a day on the phone most days of the week – listening to people and encouraging them through their experiences.

I have heard many sad and distressing stories but have always sought to listen with empathy and to find ways for the client to rebuild their lives, and to move on beyond crime.

Throughout my time with Victim Support, I have been encouraged and supported by managers, staff and volunteers within the charity and – in return – I have found a real satisfaction in enabling people to cope with some very difficult situations and move back to some form of normality.

Kathy - Victim Support

My intention to volunteer post-retirement wasn’t swayed by the pandemic which began shortly after my interview.  All training was online and despite some challenges I persevered as I so wanted this. Once the first call  was under my belt, I was soon working alone. Telephone support felt natural as I hadn’t yet worked with VS clients face-to-face. Whilst the clients were grateful for support, I was grateful to be doing something that gave me such a positive feeling of purpose and achievement. 

During the second lockdown I completed further training to increase the victim cohorts that I could support using newly acquired skills and previous experience. The pandemic has encouraged new initiatives and ideas such as volunteer support groups on social media and virtual meetings. I’m excited to be involved with other Victim Support opportunities as restrictions are lifted, and to meet up with my line manager and peers in ‘real life’. 

 

Alex - RJ Facilitator

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Alex and I'm currently studying to qualify as a counsellor. My dream for the future is to have my own practice. I also volunteer for a mediation service as a community and intergenerational mediator. When I'm not working, I'm playing tennis. My other passions are cooking and watching Formula 1. The rest of the time is spent running around after a 3-year-old girl, who keeps me busier than everything else put together!

When and why did you decide to start volunteering as an RJ facilitator?

I left my job at Heathrow airport July 2019 to concentrate on my studies, this allowed me some spare time to put my counselling skills to use. I chose volunteering roles that would allow me to work with people and provide a supporting role.

How did you find doing your training remotely?

Due to my counselling studies having already being carried out remotely, I felt very comfortable with it being online and it didn't hinder the process at all.

The training was incredibly insightful and though remote, managed to maintain a high level of engagement throughout.

My real flash bulb moment from the training was the first time using the script during a roleplay. I was truly blown away by the power of the script and that moment, along with one of the case studies, will stay with me for the rest of my life.

What has your volunteering experience been like so far, especially in the
midst of the pandemic?

Having not experienced the RJ process before the pandemic, it's hard to compare, but for me, I like the ability to use platforms such as Teams or Zoom to speak to people and still have a more personal touch than a phone call. I do think that meeting in person will provide a greater rapport, however this has given me the opportunity to take cases across the county, which allows you to spend more of your time helping than travelling.

What has been your RJ highlight to date?

I can't pinpoint one particular highlight! I've had the opportunity to work with some incredibly experienced RJ facilitators whom I am in awe of and I learn something new every single time.

I've also had the opportunity to work with harmed/harmer parties and that's been an incredibly insightful process.

Volunteering as an RJ facilitator has given me the opportunity to be able to provide positive change for someone and this is a truly wonderful thing to experience.

What would you say to someone thinking about volunteering in RJ?

I couldn't recommend it more. From a practical point of view the skills, knowledge and work connections you make are brilliant, but also emotionally the positive effect you can truly have for the community is amazing. This could be helping a victim overcome an experience that may well be impacting their, or helping an offender to realise the harm they have caused, and potentially be a catalyst for change, the point that they turn their life around. Most importantly my work makes me proud every day!

Amanda - RJ facilitator

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I'm Amanda and I'm a Restorative Justice Facilitator working through the prison charity Sussex Pathways. 

How have you found volunteering during the pandemic? 

As a Restorative Justice Facilitator, it's been challenging trying to open and progress cases over the last fifteen months. Where a participant is in a closed prison we've been unable to move forward as prison visits have been banned in order to protect staff and prisoners from Covid-19. However, we've managed to start, and sometimes complete, cases where both parties are in the community.  While face to face conferencing has not been possible, we've successfully exchanged letters or completed a shuttle messaging process (where the participants don't meet but a facilitator goes back and forth between them exchanging messages) and have used phone calls and Zoom meetings wherever we can. Open air meetings have taken place when allowed, despite sometimes arctic conditions in cafes near the seafront!

Is there a particular case that's stayed with you from the past year?

Despite Covid lockdowns we managed to open and satisfactorily complete a Restorative Justice case initiated by an offender. He wanted to apologise to his victim for the harm caused. As he was in an open prison there were times we were able to visit him, and we also made indoor and outdoor visits to the harmed person as the various restrictions allowed. Due to his health and past history, the offender was clearly going to need a lot of support on release, and we were pleased to be able to refer him to Through the Gate which is another service offered by Sussex Pathways. As a result he's received 1:1 support from a volunteer keyworker during and post release. He's told us how this service and the RJ process are now helping him to settle down and move forward in a positive way.

Can you tell us about a victim that you've helped through the RJ process?

We worked with lady who was sceptical when we approached her to say that the man who burgled her house wanted to say sorry. Despite receiving no support or encouragement from friends or family, and her own initial misgivings and fear of the offender she did decide to take part in RJ. She chose to correspond with her offender using letters and in these he explained the circumstances that had led to his crime and answered her questions. Once the RJ process was finished she said: “I’m glad I did it now. I do wish him well” and thanked us most sincerely. She has asked for updates on his progress and has said that what she really wants to see is for him to keep out of crime.