Delivering circles of support and accountability to protect communities from sexual harm and sexual reoffending


Young person’s circle journey during lockdown

One of our wonderful volunteers recounts how her young adult's circle dealt with the demands of lockdown, and how without lockdown they may not have been able to connect to some of the deeper subjects they dealt with in it.

This is a testing time for Circles, when many of the things we and our core members want to do are not possible.

My current Young Adult Circle had its first meeting at the beginning of March 2020. Our core member is an immature young man (age 20) who has some family support but no local friends and few opportunities to develop social skills and a social life. We hoped to help him with this and he was looking forward to some fun outings with us.

Our first meeting was in a pub – a new experience for him and he enjoyed it. Then we were plunged into lockdown. We moved to weekly zooms and later took turns to ring him. This was better than nothing but not easy: he had no conversational skills and anyway had nothing much to talk about as he was doing very little. And at that point we did not know him well enough to ask more probing questions.

So it was a relief to come out of that first lockdown and be able to meet in the park, have a couple of short walks, sit together round an outdoor table. One volunteer brought her dog which made a lovely addition to the Circle and a good talking point. But as the evenings got darker and colder we could not continue to meet outside. Thanks to our coordinator’s efforts, we were able to move to a large room in the local Baptist Church where, because of the exemptions for vulnerable people, we have been able to continue meeting.

Sometimes it seems that we are the only group using the buildings in the evening and we are grateful to the church for providing for us a warm space, complete with sanitiser, where we can be socially distanced and private.

Since the pandemic began, our CM was being given less and less hours in his part-time job and at Christmas this came to a complete end. This means that the small amount of social contact he had on those working days has gone and also that he is now able, and more than happy, to spend the time in his bedroom playing games on his laptop; probably up to 10 hours a day and often until 3am.

But there has perhaps been a bit of a silver lining to this lockdown Circle. By having to spend more time indoors than we had envisaged I think we have got to know our CM in ways that may well not have been possible had we been out and about more. We do have some fun playing word games (who remembers 20 Questions or What’s My Line?) and board games with a nominated person moving the pieces. But perhaps more important, we have had the opportunity for some more in-depth engagement about matters of concern.

As the relationship has developed, we have felt able to challenge him gently about such things as the troubling amount of time he spends online and about his total lack of exercise – whole days when he never leaves the house. And through discussion as a group, sharing our own experiences and involving him in proper conversations perhaps for the first time, we have been able to raise subjects such as the social advantages of a job – while acknowledging the restrictions of his licence.

We have also been able to question his apparent resistance to obtaining qualifications and been able to air matters such as the value of sleep and healthy eating as well as the downsides of excessive online gaming, without it being ‘us against him’ and without fear of him rejecting us. He often brushes aside what we say with his ‘know all’ attitude but I still feel that we have formed a somewhat deeper relationship with him than has been possible in some of my previous Circles.

My hope is that by engaging in this way he is learning social skills as basic as the need to listen to others and then reply (in other words, converse) and the value of talking over problems and sadnesses. The repercussions of his offence will be with him for a long time but if he is to mature and move on he needs these new skills. We certainly want to get out and do some active, fun things together.

But I feel that, for this Circle at least, lockdown has not been the disaster it could have been. When we eventually go bowling, we’ll be with him as friends but as friends who have not been afraid to hold him to account.

Jennifer Armstrong

March 2021

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