It’s Volunteers’ Week 2023! This fantastic event runs from June 1st-7th and gives us the opportunity to recognise the amazing work of all our volunteers across the organisation. In this blog, we explore Alicia’s story, the benefits of volunteering and why volunteering is important.
Volunteers’ Week: Alicia’s Story
Spurgeons is indebted to our fantastic volunteers, who give up their free time to helpv out in a variety of our projects and children’s centres.
One of those volunteers is Alicia Fowler, who works at the Invisible Walls project at HMP Winchester, supporting families with prison visits and family days.
‘I chose to volunteer because of my past experience as a visitor,’ she says. ‘Having received support and care from Spurgeons, I wanted to be able to give something back and this is how I’ve chosen to do it.’
Life with a partner in prison
Alicia’s partner Jamie was previously an inmate at Winchester. ‘I’d visit Jamie every week – at the time his son Ralph was three. Me and Ralph would interact with Spurgeons as visitors,’ she says.
‘I always said that one day, I would come back to give back to Spurgeons because Jamie, Ralph and I got so much support from them when we were going through that experience as a family.’
While Jamie was in prison, he was working with the Spurgeons team on a weekly basis. Alicia feels it made him think about the impact his incarceration had on Ralph, and what Jaime could do differently when he got home.
‘He would send us cards, poems, and pictures that he had coloured,’ remembers Alicia. ‘He was able to read a story which was recorded, and I could play it to Ralph before he went to bed at night so he could hear Jamie’s voice.’
Ralph is now 9 years old, and sadly Jamie has passed away. The story that Jamie recorded for Ralph means that Ralph can still feel close to his dad. ‘If it wasn’t for Spurgeons, Ralph wouldn’t have that,’ says Alicia.
‘Because of the routine and structure that Spurgeons brought to Jamie in Winchester, Jamie was the best version of himself,’ she says. ‘Spurgeons gave him structure, it was safe for him, he was in a community, and it took away some of the things he had struggled with on the outside. Spurgeons were an absolute godsend.’
Giving back as a volunteer
When Jamie was released, Alicia wrote a letter to the Spurgeons staff to thank them for their support. ‘I left the letter and ran out because I just didn’t want to interact with them as I felt really emotional,’ she says.
Alicia then became a volunteer and started to support other families with the difficulties faced by those left outside: intimidating prison visits, financial hardships, persecution and judgement from others.
‘I love the team,’ she says. ‘When I leave here, I am on a high, I’m on cloud nine! The team are making a difference to people’s lives on a daily basis. They’re all so passionate about what they’re doing and how they deliver it. And the people that they’re delivering it to, they don’t look at them as prisoners, they look at them as people. They really care about developing them, not just when they’re here, but on the outside as well.
‘They support everybody, whether you’re a volunteer, whether you’re a member of the Spurgeons team, whether you’re a prisoner or a member of a prisoner’s family. It’s that whole believing in what they’re doing and what they’re delivering.’
The need for outreach to prisoners and their families
It can be easy to wonder why prisoners deserve support when they have committed a crime, however as Alicia points out, prisoners are people who have made mistakes, and can be rehabilitated.
‘People are human, they make mistakes. They deserve a second chance, they deserve support,’ she says. ‘They deserve rehabilitation, they still deserve to see their children and be part of their children’s lives as well as their partners and their other family members.
‘It’s because of Spurgeons that the prisoners understand how their children are being affected, and what they can do to be a better, more stable part of their children’s future. Unfortunately, some of the men do come in and out. But the whole time they spend with Spurgeon is productive, it’s positive, and it does make a difference.’
What is Volunteer’s Week (2023)?
Volunteers Week is an annual celebration of the contribution millions of people make across the UK through volunteering in their communities. It aims to recognise the efforts of those who give up their spare time to make a difference for others. It also hopes to inspire people to volunteer in community projects local to them.
Spurgeons relies heavily on the incredible work our volunteers do- we currently have 118 incredible individuals who help out in a variety of areas, making a difference to people’s lives.
Why volunteering is important
Charities need to keep expenditure down in order to fulfil their aims in the community, so volunteers who work alongside full-time staff help us reach more people.
Volunteer work is important to the volunteers, too. Working to support others in the community offers many benefits, from better mental health to a sense of fulfilment. It also gives you experience in a different work sector, along with new skills.
Employers are always keen on recruiting applicants who have spent time volunteering as it shows a commitment to a cause for no financial reward.
The benefits of volunteering
Volunteering not only offers an opportunity to help others by generously giving our time to those that need it most, but it is great for our own wellbeing, too. The benefits of volunteering can also be mutually experienced.
Not only can you make a positive difference in somebody else’s life, but helping others makes you feel good, too. It helps in boosting confidence and self-esteem, as well as giving you the chance to meet new people and learn a range of new skills.
A huge thank you to our volunteers!
Here at Spurgeons, we recognise the amazing contributions our teams have on the communities that we support.
Deb Wood (Volunteer Coordinator)
“We love our volunteers so much and wanted to thank them for their devotion to the Invisible Walls Service with an afternoon tea. We also invited the Mayoress to come along to meet our volunteers and there was no better time to do this than during ‘Volunteers Week’, which runs from the 1st to the 7th June.”
Vicky Baird (Prison Family Services Manager)
“Volunteers are essential to the successful running of our service; we could not do what we do without them! They are the first point of contact for those visiting HMP Winchester and offer kindness and support which is vital. They also support our specialist visits, Homework club and parenting course delivery.
Without the support and commitment of our volunteers, there would be no provision for children and families during their visit. Children and families can arrive fretful from travelling, unsure about the visits process. By offering such a welcoming environment our volunteers help to reduce these anxieties, making the visit less stressful and much more enjoyable for all.
We are so very grateful for their continued support and efforts to provide a safe, welcoming and fun space for children and families visiting HMP/YOI Winchester, and this event is a small gesture to recognise all of their hard work and efforts and say thank you for their time, commitment and kindness”
Susan Bell (Community Engagement Volunteer Coordinator)
“We run Being a Parent courses, which are 9-week courses with the aim to improve child development and difficulties, parenting, family resilience and coping. Parents who attend these courses then have the opportunity to become a volunteer with us and train to become a Parent Group Leader.
Having a volunteer parent as a group leader makes such a difference. It allows peer to peer support from a local parent who has experienced the course themselves and has a really positive impact on the group dynamics. They can bring a real lived experience to the group and can encourage and support parents to engage positively with the material. They are often the greatest champions of the course and are so passionate about the positive impact it has made to their, and their families, lives. They understand what it is like to attend the course and they often bring a different perspective into the planning and delivery of the sessions which is really important.
Often at the beginning of the course parents can feel underconfident and can be a little defensive. On a recent course the parent volunteer group leader was able to share something of her story – of how she had felt the same thing at the beginning of her course. She was able to speak about how it became easier over the sessions, and how she had a “lightbulb moment” This encouraged the parents to continue to attend and they ended up getting so much out of the course. Without the input from someone who had experienced the same thing, the parents may have stopped attending the course.”
Sarah Wallis (Head of Delivery)
“We have a small team of Parent Support Volunteers who work with families alongside our Parent Support workers. We have 6 fantastic volunteers who deliver 1:1 support for vulnerable families to help them with improving family communication, manage behaviour and boost parent confidence and wellbeing. Some of our amazing volunteers also support at Church and school groups and events, and also respond to questions on the parent forum on our dad.info website. All our volunteers show amazing commitment to both Spurgeons and also to the families they work with.”
On behalf of Spurgeons Children’s Charity, we thank all our volunteers for their contribution and commitment across our projects, services and children’s centres.