HMP Oakwood Social Days

Some of our volunteers recently attended social days at HMP Oakwood, organised by prison staff for men who don't receive any visits.  They have shared their reflections below.

Holly & Andy attended together and Holly says: "HMP Oakwood is a category C prison in Staffordshire, and they share a campus with HMP Featherstone and HMP Brinsford, a YOI. Oakwood is a feeder and trainer prison, so men can do courses to help them resettle when the time comes. Outside the visitor centre were examples of woodwork completed by the men that were for sale, including beautiful bird tables and even a pub bar – very talented individuals!

Andy and I went along for a morning organised by prisoner peers especially for men who don’t receive visitors. They are held once a month, and give the men a chance to socialise together and with staff, playing games, board games and a team quiz. They get provided with a free breakfast and pudding, tea and coffee, and 2 hours to relax.

I had done one visit previously, but Andy had never been in a prison before so was very nervous. He relaxed once we got into the social room, though, because everyone was so friendly and plied him with food. The head of the kitchen, Osi, made us most welcome and was disappointed that we refused bagels, but we promised to try his apple crumble and custard later on, and he introduced us to the guy serving tea and coffee. We hadn’t finished the first drink before he was asking us if we wanted more!

Everyone seemed to already be in their little groups by the time we arrived. Two men were playing chess together, and two men were playing battle ships. Others were sat around just chatting, a game of pool was in full flow, and there was a table tennis table not being used. More about that later on! Andy and I noticed a scrabble board so started to play a game of scrabble as we didn’t want to interrupt anyone. A member of staff came over because they hadn’t seen us before, and sold the benefits of these sessions to us: time and space to relax and mix with people they would not usually see. They can search on the system for men who don’t receive visits and they are all invited to come, although some choose not to. They are provided with breakfast and pudding for free, which helps them to budget for other expenses, and staff are commandeered throughout the prison to join in too.

We spoke to the team who induct prisoners into the prison: tell them about the facilities, what’s available for them etc. They had not heard of New Bridge, and were really keen on the premise of men having someone to keep in touch with and provide visits. Being a masters student, I sold the research to them on how external contact really helps prisoners to feel more ‘normal’: hopefully we will see a few men from Oakwood join the waiting list soon!

Putting the scrabble away, Andy was asked by the chess game winner if he played, and walked on past when Andy said he did but wasn’t very good – he wanted a proper challenge by the sounds of it! We migrated over to the table tennis where there was a bit of a commotion brewing. Six or seven paper coffee cups, weighted down with water, had been set up like skittles at one end, and men and staff were taking it in turns to see how many balls they could bounce into the cups. The commotion was someone getting 3, but this was then beaten by the chess man who managed 4 – uber competitive, he also argued the points of a couple of quiz questions later on too! Andy and I managed to rim a couple of cups but we weren’t much good, to be fair. We need to go again to get more practice.

It was then time for pudding. Osi dished portions of delicious apple crumble into cups whilst someone else spooned custard on top – it was like being back in the queue for school dinners except the food was much nicer! We were then busied into teams as it was 10.30 and quiz time.

Our team was made up of three men from the Oakwood Barbering Academy, another who was looking after Coco the labrador, a sanctioned therapy dog belonging to a member of staff who got pinched to join a smaller team, and me and Andy – a good range of ages, lets say! How many times had England won the Euros caused great debate as men’s or women’s wasn’t specified by the quizmaster, which is great as this would not even have been questioned a few years ago. The one that sticks in my mind, though, is the look on one team members face when he found out that eyeballs are the only part of the human body that never grows – mind blown, he could not get his head around it! This is why quizzes are great – the man with the dog knew that snails sleep for 3 years because he had watched Turbo the Snail! We didn’t come last but we didn’t win, and the atmosphere during the quiz was amazing, banter between the teams, debate over answers, and a cookie pizza for the winners to share.

I was really disappointed when the morning was over and it was time to go. We had a great morning, and I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. The organisation by the peer prisoners was brilliant, especially Osi who spent the whole time cooking for everyone, and seeing staff and prisoners have fun together really gave me hope that these men would prosper from their time at HMP Oakwood."

Mark & Alison attended another event at the same prison, this time for people on the drug rehabilitation wing.  Mark says: "I’m yet to have my first visit with the prisoners I have befriended, so my visit to HMP Oakwood for the social event was my first time inside a prison. Myself and the other volunteer were greeted by Charlotte, the Head of Rehabilitation, who took us over to the visits hall. Inside there were several prisoners making food for the group of about 40 prisoners from the drug rehabilitation wing who were on their way. If I understood correctly, none of this group currently receive any visitors.

When the prisoners came in, they played pool, table tennis, chess and other games, or sat chatting, while being served toasted sandwiches. I was struck several times by the friendly conversations between many of the prisoners and the staff, and had I not known differently it would have been easy to assume they were all a group of friends hanging out with each other. I found this quite heartwarming. I was invited to mingle with the group, and I joined 3 prisoners who were sat chatting. The overall relaxed atmosphere of the whole room meant I felt quite comfortable in there. The men were respectful and open with me and made me feel welcome, something that was repeated with every one of the 10 or so prisoners I spoke with during the 2 hour event.

One prisoner told me of how he was being released in a few weeks, and how scared of it he was, with no family or support on the outside. He told me of his concern that being so isolated he may relapse into drug use again. I was touched at his trust in me to share something so vulnerable. With some others I played chess, and enjoyed several friendly but fiercely competitive games. Finally I joined a team of 4 prisoners for the quiz. The atmosphere in the room was again very competitive and also good natured. Even where there was a disagreement on who had won the quiz nobody got upset and there was good-natured banter that you would get with any group of men. 

After the first few minutes I really wasn’t aware of being inside a prison, and was just thoroughly enjoying listening to the men and playing games. If you get the chance to attend one of these events I highly recommend it. I found it both interesting and fun, and would love to attend more."

Alison attended the same day as Mark, and says: "I recently paid a visit to HMP Oakwood, as part of a monthly programme run by the prison, aimed at prisoners who have few visits. This particular one was for prisoners from the specialist drug rehabilitation wing. The booking in process was relatively straightforward and we were warmly welcomed by staff and prisoners alike! Although the prisoners were slightly reticent about approaching, if you approached them they were very happy to chat, and particularly keen to know why you were there. Once the ice was broken they were also happy to answer questions and talk about their experience on the inside. There were games, including pool and table tennis, as well as less energetic ones, like chess and scrabble. The finale was a quiz with a much sought after cookie dough pizza for a prize. Unfortunately I didn’t win this and those that did were not willing to share! The time went very quickly, a measure of how relaxed and enjoyable it was, and it is certainly something I would be more than happy to do again."

Our volunteers often have the opportunity to attend socials days at various prisons, outside their own befriending, and enjoy being able to provide friendly conversation for people without visitors.  

If you are interested in volunteering with us, you can find out more at


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