Retirement is great, but to avoid boredom and the possible onslaught of dementia, it requires planning. It was casually suggested to me by Tim Cowling during one of my chauffeur duty evenings early last year, that I might like to consider doing voluntary work with Witness Support, as does his wife Linda. I'd never heard of this before but it appealed to me. After discussing this with Linda, my interest grew and I applied to train with the Victim Support Service, a nationwide charity set up to support witnesses, before, during and after they give evidence in either the Magistrates or Crown Courts, it being independent of the Courts and the Police.
After a successful interview, what followed, was for me a most interesting and thought provoking 5 day core training, and one
that I could not have ever imagined. This 5 day course, spread over a few weeks was intense and very thought provoking. Many months of ‘shadowing’ an experienced volunteer followed. I learnt that when a witness attends court they are nervous - this rather obvious statement is unbelievably understated, as I was about to discover.
We learnt the court procedures, both in the Magistrates and Crown courts, both generally similar, but with specific differences. The roll of the court ushers, the prosecution and defence barristers, police, magistrates and the Judge, the Jury and their sometimes unenviable responsibilities. Having had no experience of criminal Courts in my life, I found all this fascinating and my hunger for more information grew. I knew that this work would be very fulfilling and interesting and the perfect ingredient in my retirement.
I learnt that many witnesses are very vulnerable people,
vulnerable for all sorts and numerous reasons. Examples being, age, race, financial, religious, sexual orientation and many more. Very often a witness is also the victim, and that brings into play a whole new arena of problems, especially where family is involved. Add to that child witnesses, or those that have learning difficulties and/or autism. I could see this role would be extremely complex and a huge responsibility to take on, but something I really wanted to do.
The three core conditions of helping are, RESPECT: not passing moral judgements and valuing their opinions. EMPATHY: the ability to experience another person’s world as though it were your own. GENUINENESS: being open with the other person, this encourages them to do the same.
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