Service User Engagement at the centre of ‘Outside In’ Event

Amanda Sheriff, EDP’s Volunteer Coordinator for the Clinks Good Prison Project at HMP Exeter and HMP Dartmoor, shares 5 ways of how she put service user engagement at the heart of the support information event at HMP Dartmoor.

One year ago today I was sat at my desk in the substance misuse department in HMP Dartmoor and an email popped in with the tag line “Good Prison project – local.” The more I read the more excited I became, “this is the opportunity for me!” I thought, and so the journey began…….

I am very enthusiastic and tend to throw myself into any project, and this was no exception. I am also very passionate about service user involvement. I want to ensure my role in promoting and enabling access to the voluntary sector is shaped by the prisoners themselves. So I am sharing how I recently worked with prisoners in their representative, orderly and mentor roles, to develop the Outside In event.

This event was for all of the support services working both in and out of the prison, to come together to promote and discuss the services that were on offer both to our prison population and to raise awareness amongst staff.

1) The wing representatives were essential in setting up the day and I asked one or two from each wing to help me advertise it. They approached all of the prisoners who work in wing based jobs such as cleaners, painters and Insiders and they were able to promote the event in a way that I couldn’t do, talking to everyone, encouraging and motivating others to attend. Without them many of the prisoners would have missed the opportunity of going to Outside In.

2) The gym orderlies acted as excellent hosts for the day, talking to our guests, making teas and coffees and generally helping out. I cannot speak highly enough of their help, they even helped me find and carry tables both before and after the event. Their welcoming of the external visitors to the day did a lot to change people’s view of what a prisoner is “like”.

3) I have been supporting some of the prisoners in producing “The Rough Guide to Dartmoor” for their peers. They wanted to collate views on the first draft and the Outside In event was the ideal place to do so, given the large amount of prisoner expected to attend. A focus group presented the first draft and had one of the most popular stands of the day. They received a great deal of positive feedback and useful suggestions that they were able to use to push the project further.

4) We had many mentors on the different stalls and prisoners talking about their journey, encouraging others to engage in the support on offer. Most notably was a mentor from mental health support, who showed all the wonderful items that had been made in the mental health craft groups. There was also a substance misuse service orderly, who though initially shy, but was able to overcome this and talk to other prisoners and organisations about the service. And the Distance Learning mentor was able to promote this form of education and signed up 10 prisoners on the day.

5) We obviously wanted feedback on the event, so the education mentors collected feedback from the prisoners through the day and encouraged them to engage and share their views. This meant we were able to get a good picture of how the prisoners felt the day went and how useful it had been, which we will use for the next Outside In event later this year.

Through the promotional work and planned prisoner involvement, over 80% of all the prisoners at HMP Dartmoor came to see us at Inside Out. The energy in the room was incredible, with a real hubbub of excited talking and interest in the services. Trying on the Beer Goggles provided by Drink Wise Age Well, was a particular highlight!

There is more than one way to involve our service users in what we do, and the benefit for me? Well, I could not have done it without them. For the prisoners themselves, they told me: “I felt like a normal person for the day, having everyday conversations.”  “It has given me more confidence for my release.” “It’s incredible how well our project [Rough Guide] was received by everyone, it’s also given us loads of ideas.”


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