Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice



Lesley Mason

COMMENDEE 2018-19: Lesley is the Managing Chaplain at HMP Send. She receives a Commendation for creating a network of over 80 volunteers to provide counselling and support to the women at Send, and for developing the prison’s ‘Managing Connections’ mentoring initiative.

Lesley’s Initial Nominator, Line Manager and Send Governor, Carlene Dixon, explains that, as Managing Chaplain, Lesley has grown a network of some 500 volunteers who provide around 260 hours per week ‘or the equivalent of around 7 full time employees… Lesley is well respected by prisoners, staff and her many partners in and outside the prison.’ Carlene goes on to report that:

‘Lesley was instrumental in the introduction of the ‘Making Connections’ initiative in 2012 [which] soon gained accreditation by the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation and which provides up to six months of mentoring and support for individuals who required support reintegrating in to their communities upon release. Due to the small amount of female establishments within the country it is quite common for an individual to be quite a distance from her local area. The mentoring that is provided re-establishes valuable links with the individual’s local area which is particularly invaluable for the more vulnerable individuals. Since 2012 a staggering 300 women have benefited from the Making Connections initiative, and this number will undoubtedly increase given Lesley’s absolute belief and commitment to the scheme.’

Local Butler Trust Champion and Head of Business Assurance, Alicia Emerson, says the mentoring scheme has helped female offenders reduce re-offending by up to 20%, and describes the type of work that is delivered by ‘the army of volunteers’ as including ‘all the usual faith provision and excellent pastoral support but, in addition, a huge array of interventions including Making Connections, Victim Awareness, Living with Loss, Making Sense of Forgiveness, a parenting course and a host of other restorative justice initiatives.’ Lesley’s success attracted attention from the Clinks charity who were commissioned to study how volunteer networks can contribute towards all areas of prison life. ‘I am particularly proud that Clinks have recognised Lesley’s approach and management of volunteers as a centre of excellence and best practice which I hope may shape volunteering throughout the whole prison estate for the future.’

Lesley also oversees an independent charity linked to the Send’s Chaplaincy, The Nazareth Way, which funds a number of voluntary activities through the Chaplaincy including grants to women who have no money who may require support (for example, on release). Alicia calls Lesley ‘a shining example of how to make things work’ whose approach really does change lives. Her standards are a benchmark for all to follow.’

Then Justice Minister (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Youth Justice, Victims, Female Offenders & Offender Health) Dr Philip Lee called Send’s work in this field, ‘a brilliant example of a prison working with offenders to reform their lives and turn around their future.’

Meanwhile ‘Violet’*, was taken with the ‘Making Sense of Forgiveness’ course, and wrote to say:

‘Thank you to you all for showing me the way forward. For making me realise the need to rid myself from negative feelings. I want to have peace, I want to live, love and be happy. It’s still early days and I know I have to take one step at a time. You have all helped pick me up and put me on that path. I am so very grateful.’

And the partner of one prisoner, ‘Lena’, wrote to say: ‘It means so much to [Lena] knowing you are there and for me as well… Once again, thank you for being there and giving support and comfort to my lovely Lena in this difficult time.’ Another prisoner on release to approved premises, ‘Kerry’, took part in Making Connections, and wrote ‘to say thank you for all your support and the rest of the chaplaincy volunteers. I felt overwhelmed when I got here… Could you let everyone know I’m doing fine.’

Lesley began this work when she spent two years coming into HMP Send once a week as a volunteer, before joining the Service in 2010 when she says she ‘soon became aware that for many women, prison can feel like the end of a long road of abuse and rejection, and that there was much more that we could do to support their rehabilitation, if we had the resources. Thus began my extra-curricular drive to recruit volunteers and build our programmes. This involved working with Diocesan contacts, churches and community groups, presenting, and circulating information leaflets advertising opportunities, meeting potential volunteers, supporting them through the clearance process, and including them in chaplaincy and other prison training programmes.’

These volunteers, explains Lesley, ‘now deliver a range of non-faith related courses that address pastoral and practical issues, from bereavement to parenting, and provide a level of pastoral care well in excess of the PSI [the official ‘Prison Service Instructions’], including a higher level of engagement with women at risk of self-harm, and a valued team of prison visitors supporting women who have no family. We have also been able to build the range and quality of other services that encourage pro-social interaction in association time – from crafts and card making, to team quizzes, and regular weekend movie afternoons.’

Lesley’s work developing the Making Connections resettlement project lay outside the scope of normal chaplaincy activity, but is based, she explains, on ‘my deeply-held belief that we all need to be held accountable for our bad choices and actions, but that we all deserve second (and third!) chances. Or to put it differently, if we had led the lives that many prisoners have led, many of us could have ended up in the same place.’ Or, to use the well-known phrase, possibly inspired by a remark made by the 16th century cleric John Bradford on seeing some prisoners being led to their execution: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

* Prisoners’ names have been anonymised.

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