We call them circles at Sacro. We place them around people who have committed sexual crimes and are capable of committing more.
These specially-designed rings surround individuals who have caused serious harm to their victims and their communities. These circles are not made of concrete, steel or barbed wire, however. They are made of flesh and blood.
Our Circles of Support and Accountability are ordinary people living in the same community as these individuals. They have given up time from busy lives to be trained, to sit and talk to people who have done harm in the streets where they live, to encourage them to take responsibility for that harm and to strongly encourage them to do no more.
It is challenging, difficult, sometimes disturbing work – but it is effective. Our circles of support make people who have committed sexual crimes less isolated; more integrated in their communities; more aware of the consequences of their actions; more likely to take accountability for those actions; and, most crucially, less likely to offend again.
The people helping make that happen are not paid and get no reward apart from the knowledge that their effort is making Scotland a safer place. The men and women making up our Circles of Support are volunteers, just like the millions of people donating their time, skills and energy to make things better every day.
This is National Volunteers’ Week, when the work of our volunteers and all the others is acknowledged and celebrated. Seven days of gratitude is the least they deserve. They deserve our recognition, admiration and respect all year round. They deserve our thanks. Our volunteers are not dreamy-eyed idealists with a vague notion of “giving something back.” They are clear-eyed realists willing and capable of stepping up and stepping in to make their communities better, safer places.
Oddly, do-gooders are often derided in our society. Doing good for no pay and little recognition has somehow become synonymous with meddling, dabbling in other people’s lives. It’s rubbish, of course. Perhaps some volunteers are not driven by a desire to help but by a desire to look good doing it. Perhaps, but I have still to meet one.
I have, however, been delighted to meet plenty of do-gooders. The clue is in the name. They do good, giving their time to help every kind of organisation, charity and club, in every possible way.
Figures from Volunteer Scotland suggest more than a quarter of Scots give up their time to volunteer each year, donating 143 million hours. Their work, if paid, would be worth £2bn to the economy but the real value, the real benefit they bring to lives and communities, is priceless.
At a time when the weakest in our society are struggling more than ever, and the most vulnerable need our protection more than ever, the role of our Third Sector is more important than ever. Simply, without our talented, committed volunteers, we could not maintain our life-changing, life-saving work. Perhaps, when National Volunteers’ Week is over, the best way of showing our gratitude would be to join them.
Tom Halpin is Chief Executive of Sacro. National Volunteers Week runs until 7 June