Introducing Alethea... a Circles Volunteer
Alethea, an experienced and dedicated volunteer in the South West sees her role very much as being about, “protecting children, young people and vulnerable adults from sexual harm”.
Alethea has been involved with Circles for some time now saying, “We completed our first Circle in 2010 and the difference and evident progression between the young man we met on day one and at the end was extraordinary! Like many volunteers, Alethea volunteered, not knowing how long she might be involved, or what she had exactly to offer, but her broad life-experience and skills with people were quickly identified by the professional Coordinator who provided her with initial training and induction”.
Noticing the impact of their volunteering is also what inspires many of our volunteers, from whom we ask a minimum of one year commitment, but most like Alethea, remain with Circles for much longer. Seeing the difference through weekly Circle meetings, to start with, and then fortnightly ones, with occasional social events for the Core Member (as we refer to the individual in the Circle who has the convictions for serious offences) is a powerful motivator all around. Alethea’s Core Member once said “It has made an enormous difference. Ideally everyone coming out of prison should have a Circle”.
Alethea explains “We meet once a week, carefully balancing our role of supporter and ‘watchdog’. Most sexual offenders are released from prison back into our communities. Many experience social isolation and loneliness which can result in further offending. A Circle can prevent this by working with the offender to support, but also to hold to account, by challenging attitudes and behaviours that signal a risk to the community. We support by practically helping the offender cope with issues of accommodation, job, interaction with other people, taking responsibility for one’s actions and generally re-integration into society”.
We find that our volunteers, besides naturally wanting some benefits for themselves, such as gaining experience in working with such offenders, for future career or study purposes, or additional social contacts with other volunteers also come with wider ethical perspectives and values. “Personally I have a great belief in restorative justice” Alethea adds, “and this is a practical way of the community taking responsibility for the reintegration of offenders”.
Circle volunteers from England and Wales share stories at a volunteers’ conference
Introducing Laurence... another Circles Volunteer.
Laurence has been a volunteer in over ten Circles. Together with the mentoring he also does he reckons he’s worked with over 20 ex-sex offenders. A retired head-teacher, articulate and friendly, he describes his own up-bringing as quite ‘Bohemian’ and non-conformist! Laurence talks of his Circles work with passion and authority borne of years of experience. Of the Core Members, saying, “They’ll ask with incredulity, What are you’re doing here? Are you being paid? No, we say. ‘Well, why are you doing it? So we say, well, for two reasons. One is we want to prevent further victims being created and, second, we want to see if we can help you to change your life,’ and they find that quite difficult to come to terms with for a while.”
This is a repeated theme across Circles, with Core Members often saying ‘this is the first time anyone has ever been prepared to spend time with me other than by being paid for it.
“The more they talk” Laurence says, “ and tell us things about themselves, and the more we relentlessly go back every week and are not put off by whatever they tell us, eventually the trust gets built up and that is quite extraordinary and very empowering.”
But it is not just a social contract and like all volunteers, Laurence knows the need at times may be to ask difficult questions and challenge worrying thoughts or behaviour. “There’s a contract: we say, look, if we think you’re engaging in risky behaviour, we will report that – that’s the deal. Our purpose is ‘No more victims’ and we hope to achieve that by helping you to find strategies to enable you to lead a risk-free life, and to engage with the community and the adult world in a responsible way, but if we fail to do that and you start to drift back to your old patterns then we’ll shop you. That’s the deal – no more victims one way or another.”
Our invitation to you. In the past three years the number of Circles volunteers has grown from 500+ to 850. We put this down not only to the challenging, critical and rewarding work it is but also we trust the good training, support and back-up Circles Projects provide to our invaluable volunteers. But we do need more volunteers and want to see more Circles, contributing to safer communities. If you would like to explore becoming a member of this innovative and growing service we’d be delighted! As yet we do not have Projects absolutely everywhere, but with your help we may! Just follow the link to find the Circles Project nearest to you.
If you would like to volunteer or would like more information, you can contact the project delivering Circles in your area directly via the links within the Local Projects section of this website.
If you cannot see a local project within your geographical area, please contact us