Circle volunteers: ordinary people doing something extraordinary
Guest blog by Jo Burden, Chief Executive, Circles South West
Our recent volunteers' conference marked the end of Volunteers' Week 2018, a time to celebrate the amazing contribution of our volunteers to the prevention of sexual abuse.
We were delighted to welcome PCC Angus Macpherson who talked about the impact of circles of support and accountability (Circles), why he continues to support this important work and his gratitude to Circle volunteers for their contribution to safer communities in Wiltshire and Swindon.
More than 600 people living in Wiltshire and Swindon have been convicted of sexual offences. The primary purpose of Circles is to prevent further sexual harm being committed by known perpetrators.
Community volunteers are at the heart of this offer: ordinary local people who do something quite extraordinary. Over the last four years, more than 70 local people of all ages and from all walks of life in Wiltshire and Swindon have been trained and supported to undertake an important role in risk management in the community.
Their role involves supporting the safe re-integration of people convicted of sexual offences (core members), whilst holding them to account for their behaviour.
Over the last four years, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) has part-funded circles of support and accountability for 18 people convicted of serious sexual offences. The 70+ volunteers involved have given 4,050 hours of volunteering time (equivalent to around £56,500).
Working closely with Wiltshire Police and the probation service, we currently coordinate four Circles (in Salisbury and Swindon). What Circles do really well is to facilitate trusting, supportive relationships between volunteers and core members, helping them to develop pro-social identities and contributing to improved outcomes for the core member and the local community.
Social isolation and emotional loneliness can trigger re offending. The Circle counters this by providing the core member with the consistent support of a positive social network that promotes and influences positive life choices and decision making.
The core member benefits from constructive support at key points, for example when they move on from approved premises to independent accommodation. The Circle also provides practical support with job applications, education and training, accommodation, hobbies, family contact and managing statutory restrictions.
We want to protect more people from sexual harm and to do that we need more dedicated volunteers, community-minded adults of all ages, from all walks of life. Our volunteers are emotionally stable and approachable people, with a mature outlook.
They must pass an assessment, have excellent references and will be subject to Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks. Carefully selected volunteers receive training, support and supervision from professional local Circle coordinators.