Local Hero – Nancy Walsh

Nancy Walsh from Much Wenlock is a lady who gives up so much of her time to the volunteer sector that you are left with a sense of wonder that anyone can squeeze quite so much into life and give of their time so enthusiastically. Justice of the Peace, a member of the Independent Monitoring Board for Prisons, Advanced Driving Instructor, Researcher …all undertaken with a no-nonsense sense of practicality and humour.

Sally Themans went to meet her and was particularly keen to find out more about the work that Nancy undertakes with Young Offenders and bring it to the pages of What’s What.

In her role as JP, Nancy sits in the Youth Courts – in itself a challenging role; alongside this Nancy was appointed to the Independent Monitoring Board at HM Young Offenders Institute Stoke Heath by the Home Secretary back in 2008.

The Board of Visitors to Prisons was set up 1898, when the Prisons Act was passed. Manned by Magistrates and non-Magistrates, its role was to ensure that people in custody are treated fairly and humanely, and to ensure that prison officers and Governors did not abuse their position in Victorian Britain. It is now called The Independent Monitoring Board.

Winston Churchill said: “A society will be judged by the way it treats its prisoners” and indeed this is the key thinking behind the Board’s role today; they are the independent witnesses – there to protect both staff and offenders – and ensure fair play at all times.

“Being held in custody can be an extremely stressful experience, particularly for a vulnerable young person.”

Nancy’s commitment means that she is ‘on duty’ for one week a month at Stoke Heath; here she hears any concerns or issues that the young people in custody may have, and tries to help sort things out if possible. Being held in custody can be an extremely stressful experience, particularly for a vulnerable young person. Nancy stresses that she is independent from the prison service and her role is to ensure that standards in care are being met. She’s also keen to point out that she is not there to judge people in custody – they have already been judged in a court of law, and although careful to ensure she stands back from any personal friendship with a young person, her motivation is to do “the best for that young person, if I can”.

Practical and down to earth, Nancy explained that there is nowhere in the prison which is closed to her other than Medical Records, and when there is an incident, she will be called to make the 25 mile journey to attend Stoke Heath – sometimes late at night.

“She ran a coffee and whole food shopfor 25 years before the change in career direction.”

Nancy, who has lived in Much Wenlock since she was 11 years old, and whose parents ran the Gaskell Arms, very much has young people on her agenda; she used to be Brown Owl in the Brownies and was involved with young people in the St Johns Ambulance. She ran a coffee and whole food shop for 25 years before the change in career direction. When she was approached to do this role, she had been involved with prisons and young people through her job as a researcher, and was really interested. Becoming a Justice of the Peace followed a year or so later, and the two voluntary roles compliment each other well.

I asked her how she felt about juggling some of the harrowing things she sees with ‘normal’ life; “Well, yes I do see some things that make me sad, angry and frustrated; then I come home to Much Wenlock – which is always such a lovely place to come back to – and I hope that somewhere, somehow I have helped make a difference in a young persons life that day, that I have treated them as if it were my child in prison.”

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