Peer Assist offers easily accessible help from St Giles Trust Peer Advisors online and over the phone. People who use the service are typically people in prison and ex-offenders in the community looking for advice and support, plus family and friends phoning on their behalf. Peer Assist is staffed by Peer Advisors, many of whom are still serving prison sentences and volunteer for us on ROTL (day release). Natalie* is one of those and has been volunteering in Peer Assist for almost a month.
“I decided to do the Advice & Guidance course in prison as I really wanted to try and help others in similar situations to myself.
When I first went into prison I thought I would be on the scrap heap and that employers wouldn’t want to touch me with a barge pole. But now I’m starting to believe in myself, feel proud and know I have something to give back to society. I can help others because I understand the client’s needs and worries.
Coming here gets you back into the routine of getting up for work and gives you confidence. And everyone cares and wants people to be able to get on with their lives and overcome the barriers they face.
I normally arrive at the office around 8ish and it’s all systems go. If we are greeted with a red flashing light on the phone it means we have received a call on the ‘night service messaging system’, so we take down the details and pass it on to the appropriate person or team.
The phone system and live chat option online goes live at 9am. There can be up to four of us on the phones at one time and we share what the call was about so we can discuss the best way to respond.
When you first start as there are a lot of things to learn and a lot of new systems to be trained on, and the first time you pick up the phone you are scared of cutting someone off. But everyone’s done it and people are patient. Everyone lends a hand to get you familiar with the systems.
We have lots of laughs in the office and we work hard as well. Every phone call is different and you never know what to expect. It could be a call from someone currently serving a sentence, a worried mum concerned that their child may have become caught up in a gang, or someone who thinks they will never work again because they have a conviction and the stigma that’s attached to it. We tailor our advice to each client to try and give information in an easy to understand form even if it about quite complicated legislation in some cases.
Everybody makes you feel welcome here and part of the family. Its great not be judged by anyone, no-one cares what you have done in the past and they are all more than happy to help you and improve your chances of getting a job once you get out of prison. It’s made clear that this is a stepping stone to everyone’s progression whether it be into paid work here or another organisation.
I don’t think I could have done anything better than coming to St Giles Trust and working on Peer Assist, it’s brilliant because it’s full of real people who have made mistakes but have come out bigger and better at the end of it.”
*Name has been changed.