Celebrating 25 years of supporting families at HMP Northumberland

A north east charity, Nepacs, celebrated the 25th anniversary of the official opening of the visitors’ centre at HMP Northumberland (formerly HMP Acklington and HMYOI Castington) with a celebration event on Monday 30 April 2018.

Nepacs has worked across the north east for over 135 years to help support a positive future for prisoners, their friends and families and provides a range of support services to prisoners and their families in all seven prisons in the region.  

The visitors’ centre at Northumberland, run by Nepacs, was officially opened on 29 April 1993 by HRH The Princess Royal in what was HMP Acklington, a category C men’s prisons, located near the village of Acklington. In 2011 Acklington was merged with the local young offenders institution HMYOI Castington into the newly named HMP Northumberland, which is now run by Sodexo. 

Nepacs’ staff and volunteers now welcome around 29,000 visitors each year at the HMP Northumberland centre and also provide support for prisoners with family issues. HMP Northumberland is a category C prison that caters for adult male offenders.  

Offering a warm, dry, shelter from the elements for families who may travel hundreds of miles to visit a relative at the prison, the Nepacs’ visitors’ centre has a small café, play area for children and lots of advice and information on a range of topics.  Staff and volunteers focus on providing a warm welcome and ensuring that visitors can relax and unwind after long journeys in order to focus on the visit ahead.

The anniversary was celebrated with a birthday cake and joining in the celebrations were staff from the prison, the High Sheriff of Northumberland and Nepacs’ staff and volunteers past and present. Some of the centre’s long serving volunteers were also recognised for their hard work and dedication, including one lady who has volunteered for around 40 years at the prison, originally with the WRVS in the visits hall tea bar and then with Nepacs, and others who have volunteered for over 25 years. 

Visitors’ centre team leader, Liz Arthur said: “The centre has undergone many changes over the years since it opened. We continue to look at ways to improve the services and facilities we provide for visiting families and to make the difficult experience of visiting a prison as easy and painless as possible.  Our staff and volunteers take pride in going the extra mile to offer help and support.  

“If anyone would like to join our friendly team and work at the centre, or in the visits hall providing play activities for children, we would be very pleased to hear from potential volunteers.  We can make a real difference in keeping families together and improving the chances of resettlement for the men on their release.” 

The birthday celebrations took place alongside a volunteer open day which gave potential volunteers a chance to come along, find out what is involved in volunteering, and to speak to other volunteers about what they get of out the experience. 

Helen Attewell, chief executive of Nepacs, added: “Supporting family ties for prisoners is of great importance for all of us, as evidence shows a stable family and regular visits results in a reduction in re-offending.  For the children and families coming to HMP Northumberland, our friendly welcome could make all the difference in encouraging people to make that trek to England’s most northerly prison.  I want to pay tribute to staff and volunteers past and present who take pride in providing that service.”

Further details of all volunteer opportunities with Nepacs are on our website HERE or by contacting Emma Price, volunteer coordinator on 0191 3757278.