OBV Profile - Farida Anderson

Back in 1988, Farida became the founder of POPs which started as small grass roots self-support agency but has spiralled over the years and developed into one that employs over 100 staff and 30 volunteers.

Over 250,000 families have benefited from the support provided by POPs in the twenty year since its creation. Farida's passion has over time shaped a unique organisation, which provides services with a level of flexibility that enables them to address the ever-changing needs of the clientele.

So how did Farida come to the decision to create the charity POPs? "It was about twenty years ago when I found myself in an impossible position, after my husband was given a prison sentence." "I did not know what to do, who to tell and where to turn to for help" Farida explained. The picture Farida paints of this period in her life, is a lonely one, a difficult time; especially when she had to present herself as assured and in control when forced to wait quietly in a queue outside a prison, in all weathers visiting a loved one. "All visitors were treated terribly, nothing was ever explained." Farida adds.

It was the experiences as described above that made Farida realise that she was not alone. "I put an advert in the local paper and set up a self help group for myself and other families who were trying to support someone in prison". Farida understood the necessity for a more formal organisation and turned what start out as a 'drop in' coffee morning into a registered charity under the name of Partners of Prisoners and Families Support Group - POPs.

The success of POPs is outlined by not only the growth in the number of services provided to families affected by loved ones being imprisoned but also by their success. Family Link Work, Prisoners' Families help line, Visitors Centres and the Black Prisoner Support Projects are some of the services currently being offered to the families of prisoners. The work and support offered by the Family Link Work and help line go some way to guide families through the maze that is the Criminal Justice System, an experience that is of course daunting for those who are unfamiliar with its workings.

Information packs are issued to families within a specified time frame, 48 hours, after a new offender arrives at prison. One-to-one interviews are carried out with offenders to establish contact details of their next of kin, relationship with family members and the other important people in their lives. The key theme, which Farida faced twenty years ago, isolation and the fear of the unknown, is clearly what drives this charity forward in providing its very vital services.

The work of POPs is not restricted to just providing information to families but goes further by promoting family cohesion. It could be described as the extra strength glue required to keep families together at a time of crisis. This is achieved through the facilitation of group work and mentoring, enabling self-awareness by the offender, opening their mind to change and helping to reduce the possibility of re-offending. The Routes2Roots course is designed help reduce re-offending; and the aim, after a successful pilot at HMP Buckley Hall, is to roll it out to other establishments across the country.

Farida explained that the Routes2Roots pilot stems from the POPs Black Prisoner Support Project that was set up in 1996 to raise issues directly experienced by BME offenders such as institutional racism. Although the Prison Service has acknowledged the existence of institutional racism, Farida points out "there is still a long way to go in order that policy is transferred into practice and we continue to strive towards ensuring equality of service for Black Offenders."

The need for POPs and the services it provides will no doubt continue to deliver quality advice and guidance, with the care and empathy required for so many who now wait where she once stood.

Farida Anderson MBE, was recently short listed for the 2008 Charity Times Award, Charity Principal of the Year.