“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 heavy focus on security.
We do not take 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!
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”.