After Community launched its campaign to end veteran homelessness and reached out asking members to collect warm clothes and bedding to help veterans survive the cold winter months, at Lowdham Grange we knew there was an opportunity for us to bring people together to support the cause but we had no idea the opportunities it would open up.
In December myself and my fellow reps approached Lowdham Grange’s Director, Mark Hanson to check we would be able to hold a collection on site, to which he was more than supportive and enthusiastic. Knowing we had the support of our employers’, we set to work, and soon the whole prison was getting involved. Business enterprises – the part of the prison that secure and manage the work prisoners do – made large bags for the donations to be collected in, staff from across the estate donated warm clothes and bedding in their masses, and we had people offering their support on a daily basis. Over the winter months, we collected 15 large bags full of warm winter clothes and other useful things including; bedding, towels, toiletries and even kitchen utensils. We have continued to collect these items, and have now reached 30 large bags of donations collected and distributed to the vulnerable.
We decided we wanted to support the local homeless population with our clothing drive, and so contacted local charity ‘Sharewear Clothing Scheme’. The charity works on a referral basis where local services such as the police, NHS and social services refer those in need to the charity. The charity then supports them by providing clothing, bedding and other essentials. For those most in need the charity also operates foodbanks. As with many local charities that support homeless people they are heavily reliant on donations from the public, and so were incredibly grateful for our efforts to support them.
As discussions progressed with the charity we have built an ongoing partnership where we not only collect warm clothes, but essentials like jogging bottoms are now being made on site. This gives the prisoners here an opportunity to be part of something bigger, give back and support the local community.
Not only were we able to collect huge amounts of warm clothes and bedding for homeless people in the local area, the activity opened up new partnerships and opportunities for the prison, and the prisoners. That’s a huge part of our role as prison officers, our duty is not just to keep the public safe by ensuring those who are sent to prison serve their time, but we work to rehabilitate people too – opening them up to new experiences, giving them the opportunity to see and understand a work environment and trying to set them on the right path. Working with Sharewear Clothing Scheme has given us another way we can fulfil that role, and hopefully rehabilitate more prisoners to be positive members of society in the future.
Caroline Armstrong is Community’s Branch Secretary at HMP Lowdham Grange.