Wiltshire Publications

Star praises Erlestoke prison project for “amazing” work with children

TELEVISION star Andrew Lincoln has praised a local project for its “amazing” work with some of society’s most vulnerable children.

An official ambassador for Barnardo’s, he was invited to the charity’s visitor centre at HMP Erlestoke near Westbury.

The project reduces the impact of the ‘hidden sentence’ suffered by children who are left confused, angry and afraid when their father is imprisoned.

It also aims to improve the rehabilitation of offenders by maintaining links with their families, and break the cycle of criminality, which sees boys with a father in prison being much more likely to follow in their footsteps.

Andrew, the star of ‘The Walking Dead’, This Life’ and ‘Love Actually’, was taken on a private tour of the project.  He met Barnardo’s staff and volunteers as well as some of the prison’s senior managers and officers.

The visitor centre includes offices, a kitchen, waiting room and play room, together with an outside play area featuring a climbing frame, swings and other equipment. The aim is to make visits less intimidating for young children and to provide support and advice for adults.

Andrew said, “This is an amazing and innovative project which removes some of the fear which children can associate with prisons.

“The experience of a parent being sentenced can affect them on every single level, from being bullied at school to being stigmatised in the wider community.

“It’s a very unusual experience to see toys and games so close to a place where people are being punished, but I think this is a really enlightened approach to rehabilitation. It benefits not only the offenders and their families but also the rest of society, because they’re much less likely to reoffend if they’re released to a family who still love them.

“I appreciate some people aren’t enthusiastic about spending money on prisoners but it seems to me that this is a very cost-effective way to save money in the longer term.

“It’s an incredible service with children at its heart.”

Barnardo’s South West assistant director Tim Carter said, “We were delighted to welcome Andrew to the charity’s visitor centre. He spent more than two hours chatting to all of the team and was really interested in their experiences and achievements.

“The service has welcomed hundreds of parents and children since opening in 2008, and has made a dramatic difference to families across the region.”

Prison governor Andy Rogers said, “The partnership with Barnardo’s means that we are operating a family-centred approach for reducing offending and the prevention of future victims of crime.

“Erlestoke is at the very forefront of this work, and it was rewarding to see Andrew showing enthusiasm for the work of the prison, and of course Barnardo’s as one of the ambassadors.”

Pictured: Andrew Lincoln with Barnardo’s South West assistant director Tim Carter (left) and Erlestoke governor Andy Rogers (right) and the visitor centre team.