Farewell from Our Chair
First of all, thank you. It has been a joy and a privilege to work with Sussex Pathways – with my fellow trustees, with the CEO and staff, and with our volunteers.
I joined the Board in January 2013. Tim Moulds, who chaired the Board at the time, suggested that the work of the charity, given my background within various parts of the Criminal Justice System would be of interest, and so it turned out!
At the time, I was a member of the Parole Board, a magistrate, and had established and led a number of charities within the sector - probably a unique experience amongst criminal justice activists in that I could (a) sentence people to periods of imprisonment (b) provide activity and skills development for people inside prison and (c) risk assess people at the point in the sentence when they could apply for release on parole.
The questions which have always absorbed me are these. What do we think prison is for? What should it achieve? Who is affected by it? What sort of people are they? I continue to be exceedingly concerned about the state of our criminal justice system.
The first charity I founded in the early 1990s was the Inside Out Trust. It had a set of objectives – to provide opportunities for people in prison to do work which would benefit someone whom they could identify as, in some ways, in greater need than themselves. Projects set up inside dozens of prisons included workshops to repair wheelchairs, bicycles, sewing machines etc, to be made as good as new and then donated to people, often in African countries, to help them to earn a living, get to work, have some dignity. People donating equipment were pleased to do so. The workers gained skills and self-respect, the people receiving the benefits had life changing opportunities. Everyone gained.
At about the same time, I joined the Restorative Justice Consortium, comprised of people in the charitable sector working within criminal justice and then chaired it for a few years. Basically, it brought together people from all sorts of organisations to share knowledge, skills and information and avoid duplication of effort. It developed into what is now the Restorative Justice Council, doing excellent work and sharing knowledge and resources.
Possibly the greatest challenge, in terms of the public view of the charitable sector, was the setting up of Circles UK. This is the umbrella organisation for circles projects throughout the UK. It provides support and accountability for people being released into the community after, often lengthy, prison sentence for sexual offences. It is a remarkable organisation, not least for the recruitment of volunteers to work with this particularly challenging group of offenders.
I have been a charity activist over a period of some thirty years, but all things must pass, and, having reached a significant birthday, I decided, albeit reluctantly, that I should retire gracefully and pass on the responsibility.
Sussex Pathways is a trailblazer in many ways. The recruitment and training of volunteers to undertake some of the trickiest work in the sector, is a challenge that the charity has met and under which it has flourished right from the beginning. People in prison are astounded to learn that the key workers who support them do it from choice and a high level of motivation to help and encourage people to a better life. The staff who support them are a highly skilled, superb group of people, doing very difficult work with commitment and dedication. And the Board which, in turn, supports both groups, comprises people with a vast range of skills, experience and commitment to a very difficult area of work.
Thank you for the privilege I have been given for the last ten years or so. Sussex Pathways will continue to flourish under a new chair, with a dedicated CEO and superb staff and volunteers. I will have more time for my family, for more culture, and for my garden, but I will miss you all.