A programme at HMP Winchester that works to improve the lives of children and families affected by imprisonment has received a major funding boost.
Invisible Walls, run by Spurgeons Children’s Charity, supports fathers to improve their parenting skills and build and maintain healthy relationships with their children and families whilst in prison and post-release. The widely respected programme has just been awarded more than £450,000 by The National Lottery Community Fund to continue its work over the next three years (this follows previous support given by the Fund, from 2016-19).
Further recognition of the programme’s excellence has also come from the London-based Maurice & Hilda Laing Charitable Trust, which has announced it will also support Invisible Walls for the next three years, with a grant of £10,000 per year.
Moreover, the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner, a long standing supporter of the Spurgeons project as part of a wider commitment to prevent crime and reduce reoffending, is currently funding the Spurgeons team to be trained to recognise the signs of Adverse Childhood Experiences and how offenders can recover.
Spurgeons continues to strive to ensure the sustainability of the programme and welcomes any interest from funders and donors who are active in this field.
Launched in 2011, Invisible Walls has won praise from Lord Farmer, whose 2017 Ministry of Justice Review* stressed the importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties in the prevention of reoffending and intergenerational crime.
In a letter of support written last year, he described HMP Winchester as “a centre of excellence” in engaging the local community in rehabilitation work and highlighted Invisible Walls as a “beacon of good practice,” describing its work in maintaining men’s sense of responsibility towards their families as “transformational”.
Spurgeons says the aim of Invisible Walls is to strengthen family relationships in the firm hope this will improve people’s prospects and attitudes and reduce the reoffending rates of fathers on release. With the support of around 70 volunteers from local universities and the community, the charity works to do this through a programme of activities that features:
- A seven-day-a-week Visitors Centre support service
- Monthly Family Days – these offer families a chance to spend more time together on fun activities
- A Homework Club (supported by local schools) – where children bring their homework to work on with Dad
- One-to-one support for fathers in prison
- A rolling programme of family interventions, including fathers’ courses on parenting and healthy relationships workshops covering a range of family themes
- StoryBook Dads – where fathers read and record stories their children can read and listen to at home when they miss their Dad.
“In the early days of custody, fathers can be extremely anxious and distressed about their family circumstances,” said Spurgeons’ Kerry Longhorn, who heads Invisible Walls.
“It is through engaging early with fathers in custody that we can help them, working with our Dads Reps – fathers in custody who volunteer to support other fathers – to make them aware of the support that we can provide, both for themselves and their families,” she added.
Spurgeons Deputy Chief Executive Paul Ringer is delighted with the new funding awards: “This is a tremendous vote of confidence in Invisible Walls’ track record in strengthening family relationships, of giving hope to those families who are living with imprisonment and reducing the reoffending rates of fathers on release.”
“There’s growing evidence that family support and maintaining family ties is not only important for the well-being of prisoners and their families but can also help prisoners’ reintegration into the community following release,” he added.
“As Lord Farmer said in his Review*, “harnessing the resource of good family relationships must be a golden thread running through the processes of all prisons… relationships are fundamentally important if people are to change.”
*The Importance of Strengthening Prisoners’ Family Ties to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime August 2017
Invisible Walls has also been made a winner under the ‘CelebrateNationalLottery25’ fund, launched to celebrate this year’s 25th year anniversary of the National Lottery Community Fund. Plans are in place to use its £1,000 bonus to fund a special Family Day, in August, featuring a mobile petting farm, food, games and activities to bring prisoners, families and prison staff together.