Like many life changing events, people always remember where they were when it happened. In March I was attending the TUC women’s conference on behalf of members in HMP Peterborough and I remember it flashing up on sky news that the UK and the rest of the world was in a pandemic.
I had a feeling that everyone’s lives were going to turn upside down for a very long time and the uncertainty gnawed at my stomach.
The Government was telling those who could work from home to do so, but I knew this could not apply to myself and my colleagues. We are on the front line; prisons can’t shut down and officers can’t work from home. We have a duty to protect the public that we take very seriously.
My employer knew the risks that this virus presented and the following week at work after consultation with us as reps, the employer allowed over 100 officers that had underlying health issues to stay at home for eight weeks. That included me.
I knew no matter how badly I was affected, there were others who would need my support. I continued to be as active and present for members as possible by communicating with members via email and messenger so that they knew I was there when they needed me and that I was working hard to represent them.
Working in a prison has meant that on a day to day basis not much has changed in the workplace except has had to be much more trusting of one another. Other reps and I worked with the company to ensure all the safety measures and risk assessments were put in place to keep our members safe.
One thing that will stick with me after this is over is the difference we can make as reps when our members need us the most. Just one example is when I supported a colleague who was going through a very difficult time as their child was suffering from a serious brain condition and needed an operation at Great Ormond Street Hospital. I helped the member to secure time off work as well as helping with an application to Community’s member support fund.
The child is doing well following the operation and the member has told me that if it wasn’t for the help Community gave the whole situation would have been so much harder on the family. It’s things like this that remind me why I do what I do, because as reps we can make a difference to peoples lives and help them through difficult times.
Lorraine Jackman is a Community rep at HMP Peterborough. Community is the recognised union in the justice and custodial sector. You can join us here.
This feature is part of a blog series from Community reps on supporting their members through the pandemic. You can see the first blog in the series from Jack Whiston here.