By Richard Price, patron of Prisoners Abroad

Richard joined our team of brilliant patrons last year, but his involvement with Prisoners Abroad goes back ten years and spans several different roles. Here, he looks back over the last decade and discusses just some of the achievements, changes, and challenges he has been a part of...

I have been involved with Prisoners Abroad for the last decade - seven years as Chair of the trustee board and three years as a supporter – and last year I was delighted to take on a new role as a patron. 

My introduction to Prisoners Abroad was through John Hutchings, the Vice Chair at the time, who is a friend and a former colleague from when we were both Probation Officers in inner London during the 1970s. John thought that my experience in both the public and private sectors, combined with my knowledge of being a Chair in different organisations, might equip me well to take on the role at Prisoners Abroad. I was attracted to Prisoners Abroad because it would mean a return to supporting welfare needs and dealing with issues with which I had been involved at the start of my career. During my time at Prisoners Abroad, we have celebrated the 40th anniversary of this unique charity and reflected on how the needs of our service users and their families have remained constant over the years.

I am proud to say that Prisoners Abroad has grown and developed to meet those needs, with the two biggest changes over the last decade being the response to the significant increase in the number of service users deported back to the UK, and the growth in our family work.

When I first became Chair, it was clear that the office space at the time was inadequate; there were just two small rooms with little security in which the resettlement team could meet with service users, and staff and trustees had no regular space to meet. So, we researched other office accommodation nearby, given that our location was well-known to service users and well located for those arriving back to the UK via either Gatwick or Heathrow. The solution turned out to be on our doorstep, as the landlord was converting another part of the building into new office space. This enabled us to build an office to meet our requirements, including a dedicated space for the resettlement team. The team moved into the new premises just in time, as a change in law in Australia in 2016 meant a surge in the numbers deported to the UK – people who faced the prospect of homelessness and difficulties in adapting to life in this country without the support of Prisoners Abroad. 

Over the last decade, the board of trustees and the staff have been keen to develop our family work, as the families of overseas prisoners often feel isolated and, for many, Prisoners Abroad has become a lifeline as they cope with the hidden impact of imprisonment. During my involvement, Prisoners Abroad has extended its family support services by setting up family groups in various parts of the country, enabling families to meet together and share experiences.

And, of course, the day-to-day work of responding to the welfare needs of those in prison around the world has continued through the commitment and dedication of the casework team, which I was privileged to see first-hand during my frequent visits to the office when I was Chair.

A key challenge for many voluntary organisations is fundraising and marketing, and for Prisoners Abroad this can be particularly difficult given we are dealing with both people who are in prison and overseas.

Long-term supporters need to be cultivated, new supporters brought on board, and grant opportunities pursued diligently, especially given multi-year grant funding is increasingly a rarity. So, over the last decade we have sought to strengthen our involvement in these activities and continue to raise the profile of Prisoners Abroad. 

Prisoners Abroad, like others, has also had to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on both service users and the charity’s finances. These, and other challenges, can be met with confidence at Prisoners Abroad largely due to the very strong governance provided by the board of trustees. It was a privilege to chair a group who were committed to ensuring that Prisoners Abroad was soundly financed and to set clear priorities given our limited resources. The board particularly benefits from the insights provided by trustees who are former service users or family members.

My abiding memory of my time at Prisoners Abroad is being part of a family. Today, as a supporter who attends Prisoners Abroad’s events and receives regular newsletters, appeals and updates, I still feel part of that family.

Now that I have joined the team of patrons, I have a further opportunity to provide support to Prisoners Abroad. When I was Chair, I often relied on patrons to help raise the profile of the charity and its lifesaving work. I look forward to making a positive contribution and continuing to spread the word about Prisoners Abroad so that the baton can be passed onto others.

Being offered a lifeline can change everything. 

Prisoners Abroad translates human rights law into practical life-saving actions by providing prisoners access to vitamins and essential food, emergency medical care, freepost envelopes to keep in touch with home and books and magazines to help sustain mental health.

Can you help to support our life-saving work by donating today?