In Clinks’ latest guest blog, Diane Curry OBE, CEO of Partners of Prisoners and Families Support Group (POPS), looks back on 20 years of Clinks as "the glue that binds us”.
It’s 1997 and POPS, based in Manchester, is a fledgling charity set up by prisoners’ families for prisoners’ families. We were then a group of women kicking back against a prison system that treated us badly, that viewed us as collusive with the crimes our loved ones had committed, that didn’t provide us with decent services whilst we tried to maintain relationships with our family members whilst still being generally viewed as ‘guilty by association’.
Since its inception, POPS had been surviving on small community grants, responding to the various issues prisoners’ families raised and were making waves at any local or national policy table we could get ourselves seated at. It was only when the spotlight shone harshly on HMP Manchester (Strangeways for those that can remember) during the riots of 1990 that the opportunity for POPS to grow came knocking. That, and the birth of the London Prisons Community Links project (the precursor to Clinks) in 1993 ensured that our voice could be heard, not only by those we supported but by those we challenged.
The riots at HMP Manchester brought the treatment of prisoners’ families into the policy arena via Lord Woolfe and his subsequent review of its causes. The work of London Prisons Community Links, headed up by Una Padel, ensured that visitor centres were to be seen not only as integral to the smooth running of prison establishments but also as the decent approach to ensuring families and their children were no longer viewed as an extension of the crime committed by their loved ones. In 1996, the London Prisons Community Link project achieved its vision of 10 London prisons providing a dedicated visitor centre. It was wound up and Una, alongside others, formed Clinks in 1997/8 as a national organisation designed to encourage and facilitate involvement of the voluntary sector in the delivery of services in prisons. The rest, as they say, is history.
However, the history of any organisation is only as good as its future. Clinks’ 20 year anniversary is a testament to those who have worked tirelessly since then to ensure that its history is not only well documented and remembered but also that its future is valued and supported.
POPS, as a member of Clinks since its inception, is well placed to offer a view of its development, its impact on the sector as a whole, its development into being the ‘go to’ agency for the collective views of its membership and for being at the forefront of policy changes influenced by the lived experiences of those living, working and supporting their loved ones in the criminal justice system.
In 1997 Clive Martin was the sole worker at Clinks. We crossed paths early on in his role when he became a professional ally of POPS. He had a desire to continue to raise the issues for prisoner’s families and other voluntary organisations as part of Clinks’ developing policy role. This role has become vital to the growth and development of voluntary organisations. Clinks has taken our collective and individual issues and placed them on our behalf and with us, firmly at the feet of those who need to hear.
Clinks was originally based in York, with a growing staff team by then of three, bringing the voluntary sector together to ensure we had access to information and advice. Since its move to London Clinks has grown from strength to strength. It has never shied away from recognising that government decision makers should use the direct knowledge of those working within the sector, and indeed those with lived experience of the system. Good leadership in the shape of Clive Martin and more recently Anne Fox has ensured that such political conversations regularly take place for the benefit of us all. Clinks is the glue that binds us. They understand that they are the conduit through which those of us on the ground can enter into robust dialogue with said policy-makers, funders, commissioners and just as importantly, with each other.
POPS has benefited greatly from the role that Clinks plays:
- From the early days of receiving support to helping set up the National Body of Black Prisoner Support Groups
- Setting up of the Coalition for Racial Justice (UK)
- Being invited to be a member of the refreshed Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory group
- The HMPPS Families and Significant others Group
- Their administration of the recent Farmer Review to identify the importance of family ties to prevent re-offending and intergenerational crime, to name a few.
POPS and other support agencies have had the support from Clinks to take a seat at these tables, to challenge the status quo and to engage in conversation with those that are ready to listen and sometimes those that aren’t.
Clinks has ensured that we have access to a plethora of information about policy, funding opportunities, volunteering, and made the trawl through such information so much easier by pulling it all together in one place. The famous Clinks Light Lunch is a regular collation of relevant and up to date information which drops into our inbox. The Directory of Offender Services keeps us abreast of other agencies who work in the field. Clinks publications, many produced in partnership with member agencies, are always of value to those of us who are challenging, researching and pursuing evidence-based funding or contracts.
Clinks’ practitioner toolkits enable us all in the sector to learn from the experience of others. From Good practice in service user involvement, to Engaging with Police and Crime Commissioners, these toolkits have ensured that the sector can be fit for purpose as we go about our daily business of working with those we were set up to support. A visit to the website will provide much more than I have had the opportunity to mention here, especially in relation to their work with the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance, young people and gender specific services.
It is now 2018 and not a time to be complacent, but definitely a time to celebrate achievements, and I look forward both to giving and receiving support from Clinks and their small team of dedicated staff for many years to come. This is the organisation that just keeps on giving.
Happy birthday Clinks. Here’s to many more.