Giving back to my community - a volunteer's story
A Blog By Natalie Hill, Independent Custody Visitor.
- Getting changed in the bathroom after work.
- Having a snack before you leave (you could be out a while!).
- Getting home during the early hours of the morning.
These are just a handful of things that a night out with your friends in your twenties can have in common with being an Independent Custody Visitor (ICV). However, there is one big difference – as an ICV, I am able to give back to my local community and make a difference to the lives of others!
I am 26 years old with a healthy social life, I work full time and I am proud to say that I also commit some of my time to volunteering. For the past two years, I have volunteered as an ICV for Dorset’s Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC).
I want to tell you a little bit about why I choose to spend the odd Friday night in a police custody suite, rather than on a night out.
Every PCC has a statutory duty to run an Independent Custody Visiting scheme. The Dorset scheme co-ordinates local volunteers to make unannounced visits, in pairs, to the custody suites in Bournemouth, Weymouth, and Poole. Our team of 23 come from all walks of life and all have a variety of stories to tell, but we all share a passion for making a difference. We represent the diversity of the community we live in, and I have enjoyed learning from, and respecting the experience of, my fellow visitors, as well as the detainees I am visiting.
Typically, when entering the suite, we meet a Detention Officer and the duty Sergeant. We’ll talk about any risks and they will give us any info we may need to know that day. We tour the suite to check on the treatment and wellbeing of the detainees as well as the conditions they are held in. This means speaking to the detainees, asking them about their experiences, and checking that they’ve been given their legal rights and entitlements, as well as examining their surroundings.
You truly never know what you are going to face when a cell door opens or who you are going to be speaking with. Being held in custody can be a traumatic time, whether this is the detainee’s first time in custody or not. The reason(s) why someone is there doesn’t matter to us. Ultimately, they are humans. Everyone is someone’s child, brother, sister, husband, wife, mum, dad. I could go on, but I know if it were me, if it were my family, I would want them to know that they are still human and people still care, regardless of what they may or may not have done.
Depending on the issues, we can ask custody staff to resolve any immediate concerns or issues. On every visit we complete a visit report, alerting the PCC to our findings and we raise any problems or concerns. These forms go on to be discussed by senior members of Dorset Police and have been known to implement real change within Dorset custody suites. All schemes also share findings, themes and learning with the Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA) who share best practice and represent Independent Custody Visiting on a national level.
Watching the work of the police in custody allows us to appreciate and document the positive work completed by the officers and sergeants daily, despite the pressures they face. ICVs play a role in maintaining public confidence in this area of policing; an environment not often witnessed by the general public.
I applied to be an ICV in Dorset because I wanted to use some of my free time outside of work to give back to my local community. I enjoy talking to people and gaining an understanding of and learning from the experiences of others. Since I have been an ICV, I have met people from all walks of life and I am grateful for that opportunity. The experiences I have had so far have helped ground me as an individual, and enabled me to deal with difficult situations in my own life. I have grown as a leader in my day job thanks to the skills I have utilised as an ICV.
As I said, I am 26 years old with a healthy social life and I work full time. But, most importantly, I am an ICV and, for all the reasons given above, that is now a huge part of who I am.