Volunteers are a vital part of our work providing information, advice and support for people with criminal records. Volunteers undertake a variety of roles including working as helpline advisors, helping us monitor the impact of the helpline, working on our webchat and helping with the helpline administration. We also have regular opportunities for people to help us by writing content for our websites, becoming an active contributor towards our forum and online resources, or helping us maintain and develop the information we provide.
Our volunteer programme
People with convictions have been at the heart of Unlock (as staff, trustees and volunteers) ever since we were formed in 1999 by a group of former prisoners.
As a small organisation, we recognise the value that volunteers bring to helping us to fulfil our mission. Critically, for us, this involves giving people with convictions the opportunity to use volunteering as a stepping-stone in their resettlement process and ultimately towards stable employment.
More broadly, we are very keen to make it clear that we encourage volunteers who have previous criminal convictions. Not all volunteers at Unlock (nor do all staff) have convictions, but some roles (such as providing advice on our helpline) require people to have personal experience of having had a conviction.
We strongly believe that every volunteering opportunity deserves proper support and, given our very limited resources, we can’t offer nearly as many opportunities as we would like.
As and when opportunities arise, they will be listed on our vacancies page. We’ll also send out details via our newsletter, so sign up if you want to receive an email to your inbox.
Background to our volunteer programme
Since 2009, we have designed, piloted and developed a volunteering programme to provide opportunities for men and women from HMP East Sutton Park and HMP Blantyre House carrying out voluntary work, as well as opportunities to people in the community. Travelling to our office for a number of days each week, usually over a period of several months, volunteers are trained and supported as Helpline Advisors; gaining valuable workplace experience whilst at the same time supporting our wider beneficiary group. During transition periods (like leaving prison) volunteering helps people develop confidence, raise self-esteem, improve skills, and develop a positive identity by helping others. Throughout 2019/20 we worked with 11 volunteers who gave us 2,391 hours of their time.
Feedback from our volunteers
“It helped my self-esteem in the sense that I began to believe that I could be a valuable member of a team in an environment which deals with quite complex issues. I was treated with respect by people I would often shy away from. It helped me with a few of my own personal issues in a positive sense.”
“When I first came to Unlock I was a bit unsure of what to expect, but nonetheless I gave it a try. It was a lot different to the environment that I was used to working in before I came to prison 6 and half years ago. Back then, I was working as a site supervisor with a London Borough Council which never required me to work in an office or be in one place all day however I did feel I had transferable skills which helped me. It was all new to me but I saw it as a challenge and after starting, everyone at Unlock made me feel welcome. These people knew where I was coming from and work to help people like me. This put me at ease a great deal as it was a lot easier to disclose without fear of rejection.
“Being in prison for such a long time as I have been, I quickly realised that even though I was ready to work and keen to work it would take a while to adjust to a working environment with every day people. Working at Unlock helped me to overcome this barrier. Whilst in prison I trained in IT which gave me the foundations to carry out some of the work required of me at Unlock but since working there my skills developed considerably and my confidence has grown enabling me to work even better at researching and compiling data to a good level, as well as communicating effectively through letters, emails and telephone.
“I feel that the experience has enabled me to grow as an individual. I got used to being independent with regards to travelling to and from work, organising my route and scheduling daily activities whilst at work. I met a great team of people at Unlock who were very supportive in my time of bereavement and gave me very good advice which has proven to be invaluable.
“I started at Unlock as a volunteer, because as a charity they were unable to offer me any full time work when my time came to start full time employment. I can honestly say that if they had the means to offer me full time employment I would have happily accepted their offer and stayed with them as I found what they did very interesting, enlightening and rewarding.
“Whilst at Unlock I applied for a position as Office Manager for a recently established organisation and was given a very good reference from the Unlock staff. If I had not worked at Unlock I do not feel I would have had the sharpened skills, confidence or drive to apply for the post. Some times it takes being with positive people to see positivity in ones own life, especially after spending so long locked up with other prisoners who have lost all hope and are filled with negativity and hopelessness. I went on to be successful in the interview and became Office Manager, where I started in May 2010.
“Once again I commend the Unlock team for all their patience with me and all their help and support. It was truly emotional.”
Stephen, Helpline Volunteer
You can read about other volunteers’ personal experiences of volunteering at Unlock in our online magazine, theRecord.
Can you provide pro-bono support?
We’re always keen to hear from individuals who have professional skills or services that they are willing to provide ‘pro-bono’ to help us provide our support. This might include you offering to provide pro-bono:
- Legal advice to our Helpline
- Training services to our staff and volunteers
- Graphic design for our websites, materials and resources
- Printing services for our marketing, so we can more widely raise awareness
- Office/computer equipment, so we can help more people
Please email email@example.com, with the subject line “Pro-bono support”, and provide us with more details or the skills/services that you’d like to offer.