#Volunteering…but with a twist

So, for those who know me (and those don’t) may people will know that I like to volunteer my time like many other people up and down the country. I made the mistake of saying ‘I have my hand in many pies’ when I was standing for a position at a Conference…it went down quite well considering that it could have been misconstrued really badly.

I’ve volunteered locally, nationally and internationally. Representing various charities and organisations as well as my country. One thing that many people don’t know that I do, and probably had no idea this went on in some cases, is that I undertake visits to police custody suites as an Independent Custody Visitor.

Now you may be asking, ‘What is that? Why do you do it? What prompted you to even consider it?’

Well custody visiting was part of the recommendations put forward by the MacPherson Report into the death of Stephen lawrence and was made compulsory in England and Wales but it was only in April 2013 with the merging of the police forces and the police authorities did it become a legal requirement within Scotland.

When I applied for the role I was on my sabbatical year at University working full time for students in the Students Association. I had happen to see the fact that a local councillor I followed on twitter had posted about these volunteer roles and that Strathclyde Police Authority were recruiting to fill them.

I had read all the info that they give you when applying for anything, but I still wasn’t too sure as to what it was…apart from visiting people who were in police custody and that’s what it was. So simple, nothing complicated about it at all.

I think one thing that probably appealed to me was the justice system itself. Even though you can attend a trial and see proceedings take place and so on, it is essentially secretive. Unless you have ever been detained/arrested etc. by the police and experienced the Justice system first hand, people have no idea what it is like. Compare it to something like the NHS. Everyone uses it and knows how it works, yet something as simple as ‘What happens if I get into trouble with the police?’, no one really knows.

When you take that into account, its no wonder there are so many TV shows about law and order, whether fictional or not. The public is truly fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes.

At the time I was appointed, part of the training was to attend a one day course to see the restraint methods and pieces of kit that the police use to try and get and understanding of any of the issues that we may come across whilst undertaking our visits. An example that was used was another custody visitor was handcuffed and the cuffs themselves were pretty loose, but when taken off you could see a red mark and it was to show that there may still be something like that present but the cuffs themselves are not any tighter than they need to be.

As a Custody Visitor your role is simple: ensure that the detainee’s have had access to their legal rights and that their welfare is being maintained.

When I undertook my first visit, I’m not going to lie. I was nervous. I’ve never been in a police custody suite, let alone standing at a cell door asking a detainee a number of questions about their rights and if anyone knows where they are.

Some people will answer your questions no problem as its just someone else to talk to rather than staring at four walls and speaking to a police officer or member of the custody staff. They answer your questions usually along the lines of ‘Have you been offered a solicitor? Does someone know you are here? Any Medical conditions? Any special dietary requirements, had plenty of food and drink’, and then the conditions of the cell.

Back in the ‘old days’ when it was not uncommon for people to get roughed up by the police of thats how they were dealt with, getting a ‘clip’ round the ear etc., none of that happens. When the scheme was first introduced in Scotland, over ten years ago now, the police were kind of wary as to what it was all about and now theyare used to it and they just chat to you like anyone else when you are in. We aren’t there to catch people out and even if something untoward did happen, everything is now on CCTV incase something does happen.

So why do I do it? Well there are a couple of reasons. Now that I’ve been doing it for nearly two years, I actually enjoy it to some extent. Another is the fact that who else does it? When I was appointed I was the youngest by at least ten years, and those who currently conduct my visits with are in there 40’s or retired. Plus the fact is….how many people do you know that does something like that? I’ve went for jobs and people have been geuinely interested in what it is that I actually do within this role and why I do. In essence, it helps me stand out even further against other individuals.

My advice to you, if you are looking to do some volunteering, why not think outside the box and go for something that no one else does.

Stand out from the crowd!

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