“THE CROFT” :
A CENTRE FOR SUPPORTING PEOPLE VISITING BARLINNIE PRISON
Background to the Project
St Enoch’s Hogganfield is the parish church for the Riddrie community that includes Barlinnie, and we have been reflecting with Faith in Throughcare Scotland and others on what this might mean for us as a parish church. Ours is the parish to which more people come to visit a relative in prison than to any other parish in Europe.
Edinburgh, Perth and Kilmarnock prisons have visitor centres immediately outside the prison gates in which a range of support is offered to those visiting these prisons. Both the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and HM Chief Inspector of Prisons have recently emphasised the value of these and HMCIP recommended that all prisons should have some such facility. They make a big difference to the families of prisoners (who go through a hard time themselves), and helping keep family ties alive helps reduce the chance of prisoners reoffending on release.
Barlinnie has no such Visitor Centre, nor is it likely to get one in the foreseeable future. The question then was what could we do, from our church hall a few hundred yards along the road, to offer some of the forms of support to visitors available at the other centres?
We started by agreeing to work in partnership with our neighbouring Roman Catholic Church (St Thomas’s) on this, and other local churches have also expressed support. A group of us then visited the centres at Edinburgh and Perth; Crossreach, who run the Perth Centre, have offered us some practical support with training etc. We have met with the Governor, chaplaincy co-ordinator and senior staff from Barlinnie, who were also supportive of the project and agreed to work with us especially in seeking to ensure awareness among prisoners and their families. We met with representatives of Families Outside, who welcomed the project and strongly encouraged us to proceed; the Director of HOPE (Helping Offenders, Prisoners and Families) has also been supportive.
We have also met with the Chief Officer of the Community Justice Authority for Glasgow, who is keen to see the project go forward; similarly, conversations with Relationships Scotland and Parkhead Citizens Advice Bureau have been supportive, with the possibility of these agencies offering specific support to families within the centre. A meeting was also held (at his instigation) with HMCIP (Brigadier Hugh Monro) during his inspection of Barlinnie; he expressed strong support for the project and encouraged us to proceed.
With the encouragement and support of everyone we have spoken to, we made successful funding applications to the Robertson and Tudor Trusts, and have now secured our budgeted funding at least for the first year. Initially we aim to be open for three sessions (of 2-3 hours) each week, staffed by trained volunteers and two part-time paid staff – serving teas and coffees, offering a listening ear and some specialised support.
In the absence of any suitable premises nearer the prison, we are proceeding on the basis of working from the church hall, with minibus transport to and from Barlinnie. Although the church premises are internally suited for a Prison Visitor Centre, what could be achieved at this distance from Barlinnie is limited by that distance. While the provision of minibus transport and the offer of full support from Barlinnie in encouraging use of the centre are very helpful, getting significant footfall is one of our first challenges.
However, all involved are agreed that a worthwhile start can be made from the church hall and the project will proceed on that basis. We recognise there are significant limits to what we could offer (at least initially), but believe we can do something worthwhile. A Steering Group has been formed, including representatives of St Enoch’s, St Thomas’s, Faith in Throughcare, SPS Barlinnie, Families Outside, Crossreach, Parkhead CAB, HOPE, Glasgow CJA and Relationships Scotland.
Where We Are Now
Initial funding has been secured from the Robertson Trust and the Tudor Trust, and Glasgow Community Justice Authority have helped us upgrade the premises.
Our Co-ordinators started work in February 2012, and several volunteers have been recruited, though more are needed. If you would like to get involved as a volunteer, please phone 0141 770 5694 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information. The Croft also has its own mini-site online at http://croftbvc.wordpress.com/. Our formal opening, by HMCIP Hugh Monro, took place on 5 July 2012.