Friends of The Mount Prison

“Prison in the Community, Community in the prison”
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*** Covid-19 update HACRO has paused activity at HMP The Mount while restrictions are in place ***

HACRO makes prison visits less stressful.

HACRO looks after the running of the Visitor Centre and Tea Bar just outside the front entrance to HMP The Mount where we offer hot and cold drinks as well as snacks. This is where the offenders’ families arrive to be checked in, which can be a lengthy procedure. We open an hour before visiting hours, as people come from all over the county (and beyond) for their visit. We make people feel welcome and we have been told that we are greatly appreciated by our visitors, some of whom have travelled many hours for their visit. We also offer a well-equipped play area for children.

Our staff and team of 14 volunteers aims to make visits easier and stress-free whenever possible by lending a friendly ear, explaining the ropes to new visitors or just by serving them a nice cup of tea with a genuine smile and a friendly chat.

We work together with the prison staff to make sure prison regulations are observed at all times but with the best interest of our visitors at heart.

Our impact

The visitor centre is a key part of HACRO’s work to reduce re-offending. Research shows that stronger connections with family reduces the risk of reoffending, yet many visitors find visiting difficult and stressful. HACRO:

  • supports better quality, less stressful prison visiting;
  • reduces the stigma of visiting friend and family in prison; and
  • creates greater feelings of connectedness, improving relationships between prisoners, friends and family.

98% of visitor’s surveyed in 2019-20 said that the centre was helpful or very helpful. Commenting about play facilities respondents said:
“my youngest son enjoys coming and it makes travelling the distance easier”, “keeps them calm” and allows “time for adults to talk”.

27,571 adults and 10,817 children used the Visitors’ Centre – that’s 38,388 visitors annually.

 

Visitors Centre

HACRO looks after the running of the Tea Bar just outside the front entrance to HMP The Mount.

We make people feel welcome and provide the best look and feel we can as this is where the offenders’ families arrive to be checked in which can be a lengthy procedure especially when there are young children involved.

We have been very fortunate when RoughStuff Oak very kindly donated a new counter and display units, all made out of oak wood and by inmates in HMP The Mount. Many regular customers have complimented us on the new look.

We open an hour before visiting hours as people come from all over the county (and beyond) for their visit. They are often tired, stressed and anxious and welcome a friendly face and a hot drink or somewhere quiet to sit and reflect..

We have been told that we are greatly appreciated by our visitors some of whom have travelled many hours for their visit as we not only offer refreshments but also a well-equipped play area for children.

Visits Hall

Once all security checks have been carried out the visitors are taken to the Visits Hall which is inside the prison. This is a long room with tables and seats for the offenders and their families and can be a daunting place for both adults and children. This space contains a café and a Play Area for children of prisoners on a visit.

Children’s Play Area – within the Prison

HACRO have been instrumental in running a Children’s Play area where qualified play supervisors provided by the Hertfordshire CDA and Volunteers recruited by HACRO work alongside each other.

This area has been specifically developed for children to play safely when their parents need to talk privately and this has been enhanced thanks to a grant by the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, where we were able to set up a separate area for older children to use, with includes table football.

The number of children using the service continues to grow and as we were able to put on more sessions
so that 5,602 children used the play area in 2017-18.

In our latest Visitor Survey, 80% of the visitors who commented said the Play Area was good or very good – which is a strong endorsement of this venture.

Volunteering – Step Inside

“Step Inside” is about recruiting volunteers to help out at HMP The Mount, (Bovingdon, Hertfordshire). There are a number of volunteer opportunities, but the pressing need is for help in the Visitors’ Centre, which is where prisoners’ friends and families gather while they wait for admission to the prison; and in the Visits Hall Play Area, which is inside the prison and where prisoners’ children are able to play under qualified supervision during a prison visit.

It really doesn’t matter if you haven’t been to a prison before and we look for certain key qualities which include: a positive, morale-boosting attitude; an ability to understand the problems facing prisoners and their families; maturity and a sound calm temperament; a non-judgemental approach; and sound listening and interpersonal skills.

Most applicants have no experience of what it’s like to be inside a prison and we do try to describe the environment as there is obviously a the heavy focus on security.

We do not take the volunteering lightly and there is a full vetting comprehensive training for the successful candidates.

There may be a few steps on the way, but it is very satisfying, fulfilling and useful work.

One of our volunteers saw an advert in a local church and having recently retired were looking to do some voluntary work, so after ringing the prison, someone came and had a chat. The prison was near home, so they were pleased to sign up to help in the tea bar at the Visitors Centre. Working alongside other volunteers is a great part of it and they can work as many or as few afternoons as we wish. And as they said “Satisfaction comes from the work, especially chatting with the wide variety of people that we meet”.

Our ability to operate the Tea bar and the Play Area is very dependent on Volunteers and we are always looking for more!

Business Ventures

Volunteers with business backgrounds work (through HACRO) as mentors at HMP The Mount on the Education Department’s Business Ventures programme. The course helps in planning for employment on release, particularly self-employment. This involves research and discussing and implementing Business Planning.

At the end of the courses, the volunteers take part in a “Dragons Den” session reviewing the finished plans to see which might attract investors.

Wendy Sherlock, who was Course Co-ordinator at HMP sums it up very well:-, “The Preparing for Business Ventures course has been taught at HMP The Mount for several years. The benefits of the course are huge for the students, as they learn every aspect of setting up in business from an original idea to producing a full business plan… Throughout the course they receive support from our business mentors with varied backgrounds who come in for a session a week and help them not only formulate and develop the idea but also undertake research on their behalf. They are also given training on how to deliver a presentation for potential funding.”

“In my experience having taught this course over several years, self-employment provides a legitimate route for ex-offenders to establish themselves back into society. In order to reduce re-offending it is essential to provide courses and initiatives that offer this possibility and can give them hope that they do not have to remain in this cycle of re-offending. It is a very useful and valuable course that should be extended across the prison estate.”

And here’s what the men said:

“I have now learnt how to start up in business, what I need to start the business and how to go about it. I am intending starting a Painting and Decorating business and this course has helped me get a real feel for it.”

“The course was a challenge as there is a lot to learn. We were well supported by tutors and the mentors were very helpful in finding out information that we could not access, so making it more real and give us invaluable help. A great course”

“I feel much more confident about my business idea and the process of setting up is much clearer now that I have completed this course. It demonstrates how it can be possible”.

Small Grants

Typically requests for small grants come from BeNCH CRC and the Police. Besides a number of work related grants, requests are often for ex-offenders desperately needing the very basics of life, including this year: two weeks of lunches and fares before the first pay packet was received; access for a homeless man to a gym to enable him to wash himself; and winter clothing.

One of our HACRO Achievement Awards winners worked with us to received a small grant for uniforms for a waiting job followed by ourr barista training – went on to set up her own mobile sandwich business. A real success story from a 25 year offending history, drug addiction and a 45 months custodial sentence!