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Introduction

Work by Sussex artist features in award-winning prison Visitors’ Centre

Work by Sussex artist features in award-winning prison Visitors’ Centre

A new Visitors’ Centre at HMP Lewes will receive a High Sheriff’s Award, this month, for “establishing a really friendly and welcoming atmosphere in a place that can be frightening for visitors.”

These are the words of Mrs Violet Hancock, High Sheriff of East Sussex, who went on to say how, “Children are particularly well cared for and there is great devotion among the staff, many of whom are volunteers.”

The Visitors’ Centre is run by Spurgeons Children’s Charity, which used Ministry of Justice money supplemented by funds raised by local groups such as Sussex Prisoners’ Families, the Lions Club and Lewes Children’s Book Club to restore an old porta cabin as a new home. Visitor families, Lewes Mothers Union and Spurgeons staff then furnished it with toys.

Children’s illustrator Guy Parker-Rees gave his time and skill to add a hand-painted mural, helped by funding from Sussex Prisoners’ Families. Guy, who has worked a lot at Lewes Prison, is the illustrator of many children’s books, including Giraffes Can’t Dance, Be Brave Little Penguin and Never Ask a Dinosaur to Dinner.

Photo shows: Spurgeons Family Service Manager Sam Hart with children’s illustrator Guy Parker-Rees in front of the mural in the new Visitors’ Centre at HMP Lewes.

Lovely, welcoming and homely place

“This High Sheriff’s Award is great news and such a testament to everyone’s hard work in making the Visitors’ Centre the lovely, welcoming and homely place that it is,” said Spurgeons Family Service Manager Sam Hart.

“We tried to veer away from the new centre looking like an institution because we want families to feel relaxed and cared for. Very often they have had very difficult and unpleasant journeys to get there and can be consumed with worry.

“Many won’t have got much sleep the night before, faced with going into a prison and seeing their loved ones in an unnatural and challenging environment.

“We’ve put in sofas, cushions, pot plants, pictures and magazines to try to make it as welcoming as possible, with tea, coffee and biscuits provided free.”

Tea, warmth and sympathy

Most importantly, the visitors like the new centre: “I got tea, warmth and sympathy” was one recent comment; another said, “They have taught me to stay calm. They make you feel more confident and they really listen and support you – friendly and helpful, absolutely brilliant.”

• The 2019/20 High Sheriff’s Awards will be presented at Lewes Crown Court on 19 March at 4.30pm. These awards recognise the special contribution that particular charities and individuals have made to the community over the past year