Roma Hooper, Clinks' new Chair, will come into post following our Annual General Meeting on 7th November. In this guest blog, Roma introduces herself and shares her thoughts on Clinks and the voluntary sector in criminal justice.
I am delighted to have been appointed the new chair of Clinks and I am privileged to be taking over from Dame Anne Owers who has done such a sterling job for so many years.
I have known Clinks since the beginning, both as a supporter and colleague, and have watched it go from strength to strength. Last year I was privileged to be able to work with CEO Anne Fox and members of the Board to oversee the merger of Women’s Breakout (where I was Chair) with Clinks. Previously I’ve co-written two training packs for volunteers working in prisons and the community and more recently have been involved in discussions with Transform Justice around reframing the criminal justice debate.
I have been involved in the criminal justice system since 1992 when, as a volunteer, I helped set up the first UK radio station in a prison—Feltham Young Offenders. I then went on to become their first voluntary sector co-ordinator and worked closely with Clinks during this time to strengthen the role of the sector within the prison. As well as sitting on the senior management team representing the voluntary sector, I became deputy chair of the Foundation Training Company, chair of Trailblazers and ran Friends of Feltham, the charity based in the prison.
Whilst at Feltham I became familiar with the wide range of voluntary agencies working with those who have committed crime and saw first-hand the genuine value and impact of their work. It also became clear to me that the ability to create system change lay both at the top and on the coalface. Prison governors are key to making rehabilitation a priority—innovative, supportive and inspiring leaders make things happen. Equally, prison officers and staff are absolutely critical in supporting and engaging in delivering rehabilitation in their prison. My role as the first voluntary sector co-ordinator enabled me to get to grips with many of the challenges which agencies were facing, thanks to the senior management team, staff and prisoners. So I do understand the challenges and benefits facing small organisations. It is not easy in this present climate but I firmly believe that the system can only improve with the input from such specialised skilled services—small, medium and large—who provide the backbone to rehabilitation in the UK.
Undoubtedly one of the big drivers behind joining the Clinks Board as their Chair is my own personal commitment to the work of our voluntary sector, together with a deep-seated knowledge of the sector and the political arena surrounding it. My background in chairing a wide range of organisations, both working in prisons and the community, has given me a deep insight into the skills and experience needed to provide the best possible support to the Board and the CEO so that organisations can flourish.
I am a pragmatist—it would be difficult not to be after all these years in the sector. But the power to turn pragmatism into action can only come with collective action and partnership, something I am very familiar with in my present role as Chair/Founder of the Prison Radio Association and Chair of Spark Inside, and from when I ran Make Justice Work. Relationships with our own sector, the government, the Ministry of Justice, the private sector, the media, the judiciary and many others, requires a formidable approach and my sense is that Clinks has their trust and this can be built on and strengthened. Yes, there are challenges to be managed, but at the same time, with the right approach, there are real opportunities for Clinks to drive forward a change in attitude and approach which recognises the long-term, outstanding value that the voluntary sector can bring to a fragmented and exhausted system.
Criminal justice is at a crossroads at the moment with the state of our prisons and probation service. Now is the time for Clinks to take full advantage of the knowledge and evidence gained from its wide membership to input on policy and create the best possible space for the voluntary sector to be part of a new and refreshed criminal justice system. I firmly believe that Clinks, with its members, has the ability to continue to thrive and use its influence to strengthen the power of the voluntary sector so it can continue to reduce crime and improve rehabilitation for those facing sentences in prison and in the community.
Finally, I want to re-iterate my commitment to the work of Clinks and its team. I believe in its ability to flourish, to take on the challenges the sector is facing and truly make an impact. But this needs courageous, tactful, intelligent leadership that I believe Anne Fox has and I am delighted to now be able to support her, the Board and her team in the next phase of Clinks.