New Bridge befriends people in prison through a network of 250 volunteers – our befrienders – who write to and visit the people they befriend. New Bridge is unique because the befriender is a constant and keeps in contact with the prisoner wherever they may be moved to.

Prison is a lonely place. 12% of people in prison never receive a letter and 30% are not visited by anyone during their time inside. New Bridge befriending brings isolated prisoners personal letters with news of the world outside, someone to talk things over with, who doesn’t put a label on them and doesn’t make a promise that won’t be kept.

638 prisoners were befriended by New Bridge in 2018. 381 had visits and 9,640 letters were exchanged with volunteers. Around half the prisoners befriended were serving indeterminate sentences and most of the others were serving long determinate sentences; 20% for murder or manslaughter and over 50% for sexual offences. Most will be released.

Each year we ask prisoners about their experience of befriending. 26% had no contact with the outside world before getting in touch with New Bridge. For many the befriending relationship may be the first true friendship they experience.  92% told us that a New Bridge befriending relationship reduced their feelings of isolation.

Befriending takes time to arrange. A lot of information has to be exchanged with prisons. Some prisons give speedy responses, others are slow. New Bridge HQ keeps in regular touch with the long list of prisoners waiting for a befriender.

Our Befrienders come from a wide range of backgrounds. What they share is a desire to help people and what they offer is patience and dependability, warmth and understanding. Two volunteers Ben and John, who is our longest serving volunteer, tell their stories of being a New Bridge volunteer in this report.

Befriending is not geographically based because we stick with prisoners who move all over the country. Geography does matter in the location of support groups which are the lynchpin of effective befriending. We want to start support groups in parts of the country we have not reached to make it practical for more people to become volunteers. The map of groups shows the potential. We would welcome ideas from supporters about getting started in new places.

65 new volunteers trained in 2018, then attended three support group meetings before choosing their first prisoner. Inevitably, some volunteers left. Two new support groups took the number to 21. Creating groups is the priority to enable growth. First, more groups help us to recruit more volunteers, then more volunteers help us to befriend more prisoners but new volunteers take time to gain the confidence and experience to befriend two to three prisoners each so growth is inescapably quite a time-consuming business.

Being a Befriender can be personally time consuming too: our volunteers travelled 121,665 miles in 2018. I would like to thank all of them for their commitment to New Bridge.

Helping us to work more efficiently with Befrienders is the new website, with a volunteers section, along with the upgrade of all our IT equipment.

The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018 placed the same obligations on small charities as public services and businesses. We reviewed all personal data and processes then put this to HMPPS for scrutiny so we continue to command their confidence in how New Bridge operates.

Judith Smith MBE

Read our full Annual Report for 2018 here

If you'd like to see what our service users think of us, you can also read the Befriending Evaluation for 2018 here