A 15-year ministry as a prison chaplain and voluntary work spanning many years has been recognized by the Queen today in her birthday honours, with the award of an MBE to Jane Newsome. Jane, who served almost all her ministry in the diocese of Lichfield, first as prison chaplain at Stoke Heath Prison, where she was co-ordinating chaplain and then as Managing Chaplain of Swinfen Hall. Both were young offenders institutions for young men.
Recognised by the Prison Inspectorate as running one of the best Chaplaincy Teams in the country, at Swinfen Hall Jane was responsible for an ecumenical and interfaith team representing over seven different faiths. It was her firm belief, she said, that we would have little to offer the prison, its inmates and staff, unless we modeled respect and collaboration amongst ourselves, rejoicing in our diversity whilst each maintaining the integrity of our own faith. This is especially important when working with young people whose experience of the adults looking after them has often been of dysfunction and discord.
Jane had a particular concern for supporting prisoners' families, often said to be serving the silent sentence. In both prisons she started regular family days where families could have a whole day with their sons, which for many provided the opportunity to start to rebuild broken relationships. Helping to rebuild family relationships she says, is one of the factors that helps offenders to turn away from crime on release from prison.
Working with volunteers from local churches, and at Swinfen Hall particularly with the Mothers Union, Jane introduced a parenting course for young men who were fathers. This gave young men who often had very negative experiences of parenting some skills and ideas about how to be a good dad, as well as providing them with a safe place in the prison to talk about their children. The special family visits for fathers that she facilitated in both prisons then gave the young men the opportunity to try out some of the parenting skills they had learnt in the parenting classes, and to bond with their children and partners.
Janes vocation to prison ministry developed many years ago when she acted as a volunteer advocate for young people in the care system and later assisted the chaplaincy team at Winson Green Prison.
The voluntary work recognized by this award has also included work, together with her husband David, (the former Director of Ordinands for the Lichfield Diocese), as Late Night Listeners (Lichfields Street Angels Scheme). For five years she and David ran the Diocesan team at the V Music Festival at Weston park, an event attracting 90,000 people.
For ten years they have volunteered with the organization Hands at Work in Africa, which works with orphans and vulnerable children in some of Africas poorest communities. This led both Jane & David to give up their roles in the diocese last Autumn in order to serve full-time with Hands at Work spending six months of the year in Africa and 6 months in the UK, working and advocating for the charity.
11 June 2016