‘It’s about making a difference to people’s lives … they inspire me to keep volunteering’

Posted on the 3rd June 2022

My name is Judith, and I’m a volunteer play worker for Pact (Prison Advice & Care Trust) at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. My role is to support families with loved ones in prison as they arrive at the visitors’ centre and during their visit by providing opportunities for their children to play and have fun. I also help with family days organised by Pact. These are more informal visits where prisoners can get up and interact with their children (usually they would remain seated during a visit).

How I got involved

I began volunteering at HMP Wormwood Scrubs 13 years ago, when the team still used a porta cabin in the grounds. I was interviewed by Carmilla and recall it being terribly busy in the Visitors’ Centre and, at the time, very scary. My first experience of play was with then manager, Carmilla, who I had to work with for six weeks before I could go in with anyone else. I then worked with Bernadette who had been a play worker for some time.

Memorable moments

There were about 15 children who attended, and I really enjoyed working with the children from the very first time I set foot in the playroom. At the time, there were a lot of prisoners serving life sentences, so many of the children grew up with me and became like my extended family, and it was quite sad when they did leave.
My most memorable moments have been being involved in family days. On one occasion there was a carnival steel band and everyone, including the children, got involved in playing the steel drums. It is so rewarding to see the children of all ages and backgrounds enjoying their visits.

Impact of the pandemic

The most challenging time for me was around lockdown, when I wasn’t able to be in the Visitors’ Centre and do what I enjoy doing. It was also a lot of work setting back up the children’s visits room as it had been used for storage during the pandemic. The playroom in the visits hall hasn’t been used since lockdown due to structural repairs that are needed, and I miss being there with the children.

Making a difference

Volunteers’ Week is just like any other week for us working with the children and families, and they are the main reason I volunteer for Pact. While it’s good to know that we are appreciated and play an important role in the charity, it’s more about making a difference to people’s lives – particularly when they are so often marginalised in the community. All children should be given the opportunity to enjoy a relationship with their loved ones, but they are often the forgotten victims of the system. They inspire me to keep volunteering week after week, and year after year!

Judith

Volunteer play worker for Pact (Prison Advice & Care Trust)

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