I started to volunteer with FOPP just a few months after the prison initially opened and have had many roles over the years, including being Chair of the Friends until 2 or 3 years ago, when I felt it was time for some newer, younger ideas to evolve. Jen Robertson, the current chair, and the rest of the director team have worked hard to highlight the role of FOPP within the prison and well done to them all.
FOPP aims to make the Visitors Centre and the Tea Bar, in which I volunteer, a bright welcoming environment for visitors whilst they book in for visits or wait to meet prison personnel. There is a small play area for children containing books and some toys. Some people also use the area to wait for people who are going into the prison to visit a resident.
The Tea Bar sells teas, coffee, and soft drinks as well as a range of crisps, biscuits, and snacks etc. The range of items is small as most visitors want to use the refreshment facility within the visiting hall. They can take up to £20 in with them to spend with the person being visited. However, the Visitor Centre Tea Bar is very welcome to many people, particularly if they have arrived from a distance and may be very early for their visit.
Many volunteers are happy, as I currently am, just to be a Tea Bar volunteer. However, it is ideal for anyone wanting to get an idea of what happens in prison life before committing themselves to a volunteering role within the prison itself.
I meet a whole range of people and children, trying to be a friendly face for someone to chat with if they wish, answer simple queries, or refer to a member of the prison staff. For visitors who are coming for the first time it can be a pretty worrying experience so they may be nervous and unsure what to do.
Prices in the Tea Bar are kept low as we are not wanting to make a big profit and money is tight for many of the clientele. Comments I have had such as “It is not like this at other prisons”, “Can you warm up the baby’s bottle of milk?”, “Can I just have a drink of water to take my tablets?”, “Thank you for being here” make the role worthwhile and counteract the negative comments which I can encounter if people are stressed.
Being a Tea Bar volunteer makes me feel part of the FOPP team which supplies a worthwhile service to the community. It suits me well as I can commit to as much or as little time as I want to give as Jane, the volunteer coordinator, sends out requests for help on a 3 monthly rota basis.