In our latest blog, Iain Johnston, Director of Faith in Community Scotland, reflects on one of the charity’s projects which seeks to build community amongst people leaving prison.
We finally got round to it. The climb up Ben A’an. Not a normal ‘day at the office’ for any of us – but there isn’t such a thing in the diverse work of Faith in Community Scotland! Some folk didn’t make it right to the top, but what really mattered was the encouragement, care and support shared and received by everyone in the group, whether they were enjoying the climb now that they were out of prison, or taking part as a volunteer or member of staff.
In Faith in Community Scotland we believe profoundly in the goodness which lies deep within people and communities, and we play our part in harnessing the potential of everyone to work for positive change – at both a personal level and in building flourishing communities where people are loved, welcomed and encouraged to be all they can be.
One way we do this is through our Faith in Throughcare project, which we’ve been developing for the past 7 years in the north of Glasgow, and more recently in Kilmarnock, Inverclyde and Dundee. When ‘Andy’ (his name has been changed) was nearing the end of his sentence in Low Moss prison, he started to meet with us to prepare; and on the day of release, one of our volunteers met him at the gate.
Andy faced many challenges, certainly. For a start, he needed to sort out somewhere to stay; and he was determined to stay off drugs – something we were keen to support him in. But that wasn’t – and isn’t - the whole story.
Andy had – and has - hopes and dreams. And this lies at the core of our work. We listen carefully to people like Andy, supporting them to make changes – and encouraging them to take up new challenges. For Andy it was cooking and enjoying the outdoors.
Andy helped plan a residential trip to Argyll, the first time he had been anywhere so beautiful. Before the trip Andy had never cooked. A volunteer encouraged him to try something new and on the second day he cooked lunch for 18 people and was delighted!
It may seem simple but Andy’s confidence grew and he’s continued to cook for himself and get out of the city and into a peaceful environment. Others have become involved in gardening, creative writing groups, photography classes and community choirs.
And in all this work, we depend on the interest and support of local communities, including churches. In the north of Glasgow, for example, St Augustine’s Parish works closely with St Matthew’s Episcopal Church and Colston Milton Church of Scotland. They support us in lots of different ways by offering space to meet, lending the minibus for trips and playing an active part in the local management group.
But it’s the volunteers who make a real difference. They are the ones who help build communities of welcome and hospitality where people who are leaving prison can share a coffee with new friends, learn how to grow potatoes, take up glass painting, or sing their heart out!
Back to that climb up Ben A’an. It was a challenge for sure, steep at the bottom and then again at the top – with a gentle meander in the middle. When we got to the top, we all relished the view as far as the eye could see. And although we eventually had to come down, the memories of the view – and the companionship on the way up – provide each of us with the fuel and energy to take us on to the next challenge.
So - if you believe in the potential of people, and can spare about half a day a week (or more), we would love to hear from you! We start new volunteer training programmes in Glasgow and Dundee on the 31 August, so if you’re interested, please get in touch on 0141 221 4576, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org .