New Bridge enjoyed the welcome return of in-person events with its first annual volunteer conference since 2019, on Saturday 3rd September.
Volunteers gathered to connect with each other, share ideas and hear from a panel of inspiring speakers. They went away feeling they had learned something new, as well as being energised and having the value of their work reaffirmed by each of the speakers.
Michael Spurr CB, our new President, spoke about his 40 years of experience working in prisons, and how conditions have changed over time. He talked about the value that New Bridge volunteers bring to people in prison, and how important their work is for providing hope, humanity and a sense of identity to people experiencing the toughest conditions.
Roma Hooper OBE joined us for an energising talk entitled ‘The Power of Volunteering’, drawing on her wealth of experience across voluntary roles and organisations. This has lead to her now chairing Clinks, the charity which acts as the backbone to voluntary sector organisations working with those who have committed crime. She was passionate about the value volunteers can bring to people in prison who have often been let down by everybody else, and whose small acts of kindness go a long way in raising people’s hope for the future and giving them encouragement to carry on.
Jamie, a former prisoner who had a long-term befriending relationship with one of our volunteers, spoke to us about his early experiences which led to him ending up in prison, and how he found ways of coping with his incarceration. He took us on the journey of discovering New Bridge, and how his relationship with his befriender, Ben, has been the most constant support he has had over the years. He described in moving terms how Ben’s interest and commitment helped him to learn to value himself more and he encouraged other volunteers to realise just how much of an impact the small acts of kindness which Roma described can have.
Ailie, a PhD researcher, spoke to us about her work looking into the experiences of men anticipating release from mandatory life sentences. She gave accounts of how these men struggle with the idea of the uncertainty of life under license conditions, and how many feel they will encounter perpetual insecurity. Conversely, some see the conditions as a helpful way of accessing drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes. She explained the potential policy implications of this research, and that the next stage is to interview the same men six months after they have been released, to understand how they have experienced their first half year of life outside prison.
Volunteers, Trustees and staff enjoyed being able to connect with each other over coffee and lunch breaks, sharing experiences and new ideas sparked by the content of the speeches.
If you would like to join our community of volunteers, you can sign up here: https://www.newbridgefoundation.org.uk/Pages/Category/apply-now