Updated: 14th July 2020

We want to make you aware of how we at Prison Fellowship are responding to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, and will aim to keep this page as up to date as possible. If you have any questions, please call our Support Team on 020 7799 2500 (10am-3:30pm) or email info@prisonfellowship.org.uk.

In all situations, the government guidelines take priority and can be found at this webpage: https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response 

We are concerned for the impact the virus may have on the men and women we serve in prison, and the people who work there. Through our actions, we seek to do what we can to limit the impact of the virus on our volunteers and those we serve in prison. 

 

Volunteering in Prison

The government have an official guidance page on the coronavirus and prisons: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-and-prisons. We advise you to keep checking this page for updates.

On 2nd June, the prisons and probation minister, Lucy Frazer, said “While safety must remain our paramount concern, the sacrifices of recent months mean we are now in position to consider how to cautiously restart aspects of daily prison life, such as social visits, education and work – with adaptations where necessary to ensure safety. This cannot happen in a uniform way across all prisons and decisions will take account of individual circumstances. Inevitably this will mean some prisons move faster than others.”

As this is implemented across the prison estate it will mean that each prison may choose to allow volunteers to re-enter the prison at different times and for different activities. As you will expect, each step is being taken with caution to ensure the safety of staff and prisoners, but it is encouraging to know that we are slowly moving towards volunteers being allowed back into prison again.

In PF we want to be ready to respond positively, but also safely. Each prison will move at a different pace so please be aware of this and be patient. 

Departments within prisons, including Chaplaincy, have each been asked to produce an EDM – Exceptional Delivery Model which outlines what their provision will look like in this new stage.

The Chaplaincy EDM makes provision for the resumption of Corporate Worship and Study where this can be done safely. Of course, this needs to be balanced with the fact that Chaplains are providing Pastoral Care to Prisoners on wings and all the other duties that they have to do. It is important that Chaplains do not become overwhelmed, so gradually and prayerfully is definitely the way forward!

In general, volunteers will not return in stage 3. However, where Chaplaincies are starting some activities and volunteers are needed in order for those activities to run, then there is provision in the EDM for those volunteers to return. So, for example, if a volunteer was leading a Bible Study before lockdown and it has been decided that the Bible Study can resume, the volunteer may be asked back in to lead it.

Sycamore Tree would be another really good example where this is able to restart. Groups are likely to be much smaller, with social distancing and hygiene precautions. They may well happen in what are being called ‘Regime Groups’ which are the prison equivalent of households.

ADDITIONAL GUIDANCE
1. Shielding and other restrictions
Importantly, if the government has advised you to shield yourself during this time for any reason, you must not attend prison until the restriction is lifted. Prison Fellowship’s insurance may not cover you if you go into prison against any relevant Government advice.

2. Invitation to return
As described in the note from James, there is no general return of volunteers to prison. At this time, volunteers are to only return at the explicit invitation of the chaplaincy department, to engage in the activities requested.

3. Safe procedures
Each chaplaincy will have developed approved procedures for safe working in the chaplaincy environment in the Covid-19 context. You must ensure that you are aware of these and comply accordingly. Please also continue to follow the general Covid-19 health and safety guidance from Government such as distancing and handwashing.

4. Personal assessment
Your prison may require you to complete a personal health assessment before returning to prison. In any event you must ensure that you are fit and well enough to return to prison.
 
PF people have a heart to serve and will be keen to return to prison.  However, please only do so if it is appropriate for you to do so and do not feel under any pressure from PF, fellow volunteers or your prison.

5. Sycamore Tree
Any requests to restart Sycamore Tree must be discussed with PF’s Operations Manager, Stephen Hawkins.  Each establishment will be different, due to the particular physical environment and prison context. 

To aid social distancing, we recommend that in the first instance, Sycamore Tree is run with a maximum of:

  • 8 Learners
  • 2 Group facilitators
  • 1 Tutor
  • 2 Victims of crime
  • No visitors or family

Learner numbers may be increased as it is clear that it is safe to do so in each individual prison context.
 
If you need any advice concerning returning to prison, please contact Stephen Hawkins, Operations Manager at stephenhawkins@prisonfellowship.org.uk

 

Local Groups

We recognise that the current restrictions may prevent local group meetings taking place. We are still encouraging our Group Leaders to check in with all their group members and host meetings virtually as appropriate.

 

Prison Fellowship Programmes

Like a lot of organisations, coronavirus is already having an impact on the implementation of our programmes. We are exploring all possible options to keep serving men and women in prison and supporting the work of prison Chaplaincies, while keeping our staff, volunteers and beneficiaries safe. 

  • We were able to complete the Angel Tree Mothers’ Day programme as normal, and received much positive feedback from both young people in prison and prison Chaplains.
  • Some Sycamore Tree courses are now being invited to resume, under restricted circumstances (see above). Most remain postponed. We are looking at what we can do to prepare for when restrictions are further lifted, including moving training online so that new Group Facilitators can be trained and ready.
  • At this time, when all social visits have stopped, our letter writing ministry, Letter Link, is more important than ever. We are working with Chaplaincies to see how we can expand this programme, and are offering online training to current volunteers.
  • Through Chaplaincy Support, PF Volunteer Chaplains, with faith accreditation continue to support the provision of pastoral care in prison chaplaincy. We are also in touch with Managing Chaplains across England and Wales, to see how we can best support them remotely while volunteers are unable to go into prison. They value our continued prayers for their work.

 

The PF Support Team

We have plans in place to continue the work of the Support Team through the coming weeks and months.

  • Most of the team are working from home. They can be contacted as usual by email.
  • The phone lines are open, but we have shortened the “office hours” to 10am-3:30pm. If you call outside these hours and the phone is not answered, please leave a voicemail or send an email to info@prisonfellowship.org.uk and we will get back to you as soon as possible. 

 

Prayer

We are a people of prayer. In prayer we can bring our fears, our frustrations, our friends and family to God, and commit everything to God’s loving care. And we are a people of HOPE, looking for the signs of God’s loving presence and action in our world, and responding to His invitation to join him.

We are hosting a fortnightly National Prayer Call for our volunteers, and have seen well over 200 people joining each time! We are united in prayer for our prisons at this time.

  • Pray for our prisons, and everyone that lives and works there – that God would encircle them with protection and healing. 
  • Pray for the families of men and women in prison, who may be anxious for their loved ones, and unable to visit – may God bring them peace and strength to endure a difficult time.
  • Pray for PF volunteers, especially those you know in your local group – that God might protect the vulnerable and calm our anxieties.


Thank you for your commitment to support each other and those in prison who we serve. This may look very different over the coming weeks and months, but it is no less important.

If you have any worries or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will help as much as we are able, and we would be honoured to know how we can be praying for you. 

 

— Donate

In a time of fear and isolation, our ministry in prison is even more necessary. Will you stand with us?