Ella an Unlocked Graduate joined Clean Break on a work placement, to celebrate Volunteers Week she wrote a blog for us about her experience.
It is not often you walk into a work space and feel immediately welcomed, but the moment I began volunteering with Clean Break I was introduced into the environment with an incomparable warmth and openness. As both a work environment and a centre for creative expression Clean Break presents a safe space that supports and drives both its members and staff. The organisation runs as a well-oiled machine yet allows space for emotion, humanness and humour to be shared. The unwavering commitment that Clean Break has towards it members was inspiring and a world away from the treatment I am witness to every day in my work place.
I have spent the last 20 months completing a graduate placement working frontline in a women’s prison. It was only until I came to volunteer at Clean Break, and saw a functioning example of rehabilitation, that I realized just how dismal and damaging the current prison system’s approach is for women. The services available for women in prison are inaccessible and uninspiring, yet it is charities such as Clean Break that provide a glimmer of hope in a repressive and failing system. During my placement here I was able to observe just how transformative providing women with creative expression and a holistic safe environment can be, I have witnessed the devastating effects that the criminal justice system can have on women’s lives but during my time at Clean Break I was able to see women, who have experienced this system, heal from some of those effects and have space to tell their stories.
The women who I work with everyday have been robbed of their voices, if prisons are to provide sufficient care we need to begin to acknowledge and give centre stage to these women’s narratives. Working with Clean Break allowed me to re-configure my outlook towards my everyday work which had become defeatist and pessimistic, I was reminded of the power of the creative and the strength that a collective group of women determined to create change can exude. I have gone back to work with renewed energy, striving to emanate the hopeful and determined drive of the Clean Break Members I worked with, taking back with me both a restored faith in the potential to change a failing system and the fight to provide women in prison with creative and restorative spaces. The connection between Clean Break and the female establishment is key to this fight and I will strive to raise awareness among the women in prison about the possibilities available to them.
It was refreshing to be part of a workforce who care for each other and strive for a joint ethos and vision, the unity among staff is testament to the care provided by management. The effective management at Clean Break made me acutely aware of the lacking welfare support and management I, and most other prison staff alike, have experienced. This is a topic which is close to my heart and one I am currently writing policy to try and change. The Members team at Clean Break made it clear that their Members are continuously the priority but had a crucial understanding that the only way Members can be prioritised is with a workforce who themselves are cared for and confident.
I knew prior to volunteering just how professional and visionary Clean Break is as a theatre company, you simply have to look at past productions to know this, however it was the everyday running of the workshops that demonstrated to me just how adept this charity is at running a trauma informed safe space for women to meet fellow creatives and explore their own narratives.
The highlight of my work placement with Clean Break was witnessing their celebration of International Women’s Day 2019 which was a chance for both staff and Members to come together, share food, stories, music and inspiration. This moment allowed me insight into the gratitude people felt towards the organisation and the strength that flourishes through creation.
Would you like to volunteer at Clean Break? Find out more about our volunteering opportunities here.