Blog | Time well spent
A unique project at HMP Low Moss in Glasgow, Scotland, is helping to bring prisoners and their children together through Scouting.
Every Thursday evening a team of volunteers lock up their belongings, offer up their IDs and pass through an airport-like security system to enter Low Moss Prison, just north of Glasgow, for their weekly Scouting and Guiding session. For 45 minutes, volunteers from Scouts and Guides offer the children of prisoners the chance to play games, get crafty, and interact with their parents in a relaxed, fun environment.
It all started back in 2012 when Girlguiding members Sally Hadden and Maxine Gow started helping out at the Prison’s visitor centre cafe. Inspired by the success of Scout Groups that had been established in hospitals, they were keen to do more
than supply sweets and drinks to the kids visiting their parents in prison, so Girlguiding joined forces with The Scout Association to form the Kelvin Scout and Guide Club. This partnership transforms the experiences of both girls and boys and opens their eyes to the worlds of Scouting and Guiding.
Breaking preconceptions about prisoners losing contact with their families, HMP Low Moss is very family oriented, allowing and encouraging prisoners’ families to visit as often as six times each week. The focus here is on building strong family relationships so when the prisoners have completed their sentence they have the support of their family to help smooth the transition back into society. Therefore when the idea of Scouting and Guiding in prison was put forward, managers at Low Moss were keen to bring it to life.
‘We can have anything from two to 16 kids, so you never know what or who you’re going to get. We need to have a flexible Programme.’
The volunteers involved in this project are overcoming a number of challenges to make this unusual set-up work and ensure that Scouting and Guiding is accessible to all young people.
After passing through security, we arrive to meet the Low Moss Prison Group’s Group Scout Leader, Nicholas Divers, and find him busy decorating the visitation room with large posters and lining the tables with tubes of glitter: ‘We go around the tables and say that we’re going to start,’ he explains. ‘We can have anything from two to 16 kids, so you never know what or who you’re going to get. We need to have a flexible Programme.’
Thursday nights are run like taster sessions for the kids and comprise creative, global, outdoor, fitness, friendship, Promise-based and community activities. ‘It’s a non- traditional method of Scouting,’ Nicholas explains. As this is a collaboration between Scouts and Guides, the Group can’t work towards particular badges. Once the children have completed three activities they are rewarded with a sticker, with three stickers earning them a wristband. This evening’s meeting plan involves the parachute game and making postcards.
‘It’s a non- traditional method of Scouting.'
While the volunteers at the Kelvin Scout and Guide Club have no idea who will decide to join in each session, another challenge they face is the restrictions placed on the type of equipment they can take in with them. ‘There’s silly things like Blu-Tack and scissors,’ says Nicholas. ‘While scissors may be an obvious hazard, Blu-Tack isn’t permitted because of the risk that prisoners may take some and use it to make key moulds.’
Visitors to the prison must comply with a long list of other restrictions, including leaving all unauthorised electrical equipment outside and removing scarves to avoid any choking hazards. ‘Also, we don’t ask what they’re in for,’ says Nicholas. For confidentiality reasons, the volunteers never ask for names. With this in mind, it would be easy to assume that the prison is a scary place, but despite its towering walls and understandably strict security measures, the large, bright room where the Scouting takes place feels safe and controlled.
Once the visitors have arrived, the meeting has a happy vibe and the room soon resembles a playground with the kids running around laughing and smiling. When chatting about the opportunities to get outside and pitch tents Nicholas tells us: ‘They have a small outdoor area that we can use in the summer and the size is similar to that of many other Scout sites, so the kids can have just as much fun as those at local groups.’
Although there have been surprisingly few problems setting up or running this group, Nicholas recalls that not everyone was on board with the idea at first: ‘People were hesitant about young leaders being involved, but they have to be over 16 , which classes them as an adult anyway, and the whole set up is really safe.’
In fact, the project is such a success that the idea is being duplicated at a higher security prison nearby. Meanwhile, Nicholas and his team of volunteers are continuing to focus on making the Kelvin Scout and Guide Club sustainable so thatn future children visiting their parents can receive the same support and enjoyable experience.
‘It’s brill, they do loads of different activities and the kids love it.’
Now we’ve learned how things work, it’s time to hear what the prisoners think of the project. Mark* introduces himself and his two kids with a smile, then encourages them to join the other children around the tables, colouring in and gluing handfuls of glitter to their postcards. Within minutes his son’s hair is sprinkled with red glitter so he walks over to dust some off for him. When asked what he makes of Scouting and Guiding in the prison, he’s genuinely enthusiastic: ‘It’s brill, they do loads of different activities and the kids love it.’
Thursday evenings provide his family with time to relax together and offer the kids a chance to have fun with their dad. Mark considers himself lucky to have the option of seeing his kids six times a week and though he understands when they are busy, relishes the time they have together. This isn’t the case with every prisoner though, and he admits that there are other prisoners who don’t seem to care as much about having their family visit.
The prisoners here are all male and either offenders on remand, short or long-term offenders, life sentence offenders or extended sentence offenders, but being unable to ask what individuals are in there for means that volunteers treat them all equally.
After spending time at a number of other prisons, Mark says that HMP Low Moss is the best he’s been in. He feels that the weekly visits from his children and the Thursday evening sessions are having a really positive eect on his relationship with his children. In particular, he says he has appreciated the opportunity to develop a bond with his daughter, who was just a baby when he was sentenced, by becoming a more constant figure in her life.
The focus for this Group is on the children and how life-changing Scouting and Guiding in prison is, but it also appears to be having a noticeable effect on the prisoners too.
‘My kids think I’m working so this club allows them to see me actively doing something rather than just sitting at a table.’
‘It’s more fun than just sitting down,’ says Mark. ‘My kids think I’m working so this club allows them to see me actively doing something rather than just sitting at a table.’ It has been well documented that Scouting can provide life-changing experiences for participants, and as unconventional as the Kelvin Scout and Guide Club is, it is certainly changing the lives of everyone involved. The prisoners are given an incentive for good behaviour and more importantly the children are given a more relaxed environment in which to engage with their parents.
The club aims to show the children just how much fun Scouting and Guiding is so that they are encouraged to join Groups in their own local areas. Those involved in the project hope that with the support of the community and the continued help of volunteers the club can be there for all of the other young people visiting the prison in the future.
*Names have been changed for this article.