Play area for children visiting HMP Northumberland  officially opened today

Facilities for children visiting HMP Northumberland near Morpeth have been given a fun-filled boost thanks to the official opening today of a new outdoor play area.
The new outdoor play area, located next to the visitors centre, was officially opened today by Alex Nelson from the Clothworkers Foundation, which provided a grant of £20,000 to Nepacs (a north east charity providing family support services to prisons in the area) to fund the play area development.

HMP Northumberland is one of the largest prisons in the UK, with up to 1,348 prisoners, and last year it welcomed 29,026 visitors, including 5,084 children. As the most northerly prison in England and quite remote for families visiting the prison, this means that families can travel great distances to visit. A recent survey by Nepacs showed that over 65% of visitors travelled more than an hour to reach the prison.

As families can arrive up to two hours before their visit Nepacs has been working with the prison and visitors to improve facilities and support offered to families, with a particular focus on support for children and young people over the last few years.  The new outdoor play area is a fantastic addition to the play and youth provision offered by the Nepacs’ visits service which includes dedicated play workers and play areas in the visitors centres and visits hall, special family visits, a youth zone and youth worker in the visitors centre.  

Helen Attewell, chief executive of Nepacs said: "We are thrilled to officially open the new play area at HMP Northumberland and would like to say a massive thank you to the Clothworkers Foundation for their funding and to the prison for their support. 

“Nepacs’ play and youth projects provide an important service to children and young people across the north east who are impacted by having a parent or relative in prison. Children and families who have visited HMP Northumberland had told us that they would like an outside play area designed for younger children as it will provide a fun, welcoming space for families and in particular, somewhere for children to relax and ‘let off steam’ before their visit, having been confined to a car for a long journey. 

“We hope that the provision of this extra attraction for children will make it more likely for families to sustain their visits to the prison and will give the children something to look forward to when they arrive. 

“Ultimately, we hope that if families are able to visit regularly then contact between imprisoned parents and their children will improve and reoffending rates will be reduced– as we know that prisoners are 39% less likely to reoffend if they have had visits throughout their prison sentence.”

Samantha Pariser, Director of HMP Northumberland said: “This is a real positive for the families of the residents in our care, particularly the young children visiting their dad, brother, grandad or any important person in their lives now in custody in what can be a very stressful environment. This play area will help to encourage families to visit their loved ones within the prison, which based on evidence can have a really positive impact on the rehabilitation within the custodial setting and also during their integration back into the community.”

Kim McGuinness, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, added: “Families and children of prisoners are hidden victims, who have not committed a crime, but are potentially serving a ‘hidden sentence’ in the community when a loved one is in custody. Having a parent in prison can negatively affect children’s mental wellbeing, relationships with their peers, educational attainment, behaviour, financial stability and increase the likelihood of misusing substances or getting involved in criminal activity. I therefore applaud any opportunity that will give children of prisoners the chance to maintain family ties and have the best possible chance of a positive future.”

If you are interested in volunteering with the Nepacs youth project in Northumberland or elsewhere in the north east please get in touch with Emma Price at volunteering@nepacs.co.uk or visit our website www.nepacs.co.uk to find out more.