Online Working – ICVA’s COO Reflects


February 3, 2021

Chief Operating Officer

  • board of directors
  • custody visits
  • membership
  • partnership
  • volunteers

As we approach a year of things being very different and challenging for everyone, I wanted to reflect a little on what the changes to life as we know it have meant for ICVA as a small not for profit membership organisation. We have written about the work our fantastic members and the independent custody visitors (ICVs) have undertaken to ‘keep monitoring going’ and we remain humbled by their ongoing and impressive efforts to ensure that the rights, entitlements and wellbeing of detainees are being monitored.

But what have all of these changes meant for ICVA as an organisation? Well, ICVA is an organisation with only two officers (supported by our fantastic board), who both worked from home as the organisation doesn’t have office space. This meant that the initial changes last March were a little easier for us to adapt to, we were very lucky in that we already were set up for home working and used to working remotely for the most part. We needed to respond quickly to the changing needs of our member schemes and were able to do this without needing to organise laptops, printers (for the old school like myself) better Wi-Fi etc.

Lots of the meetings with stakeholders ICVA attends take place in London, which meant that more often than not, one or other of us would attend, seldom both. What these meetings moving online has meant is significantly less travel time for officers and sometimes both being able to attend the same meeting or event. This is useful as, although we often think the same way, it’s great to have both perspectives on some things to help us shape our way forward.

Technological challenges have been interesting along the way, and we are no strangers to the well-known cry of ‘Insert name here – you’re on mute!’ for sure. Running events online comes with a different and unique sense of stress for the technologically challenged like me, in face-to-face meetings, most things can be sorted with relative ease, but the stakes are higher if one of your speakers can’t get the app to work or you have accidentally muted everyone and aren’t sure how to turn it off!

An upside of this is that we would normally meet people in hired or donated meeting spaces, and it has been brilliant to meet children and pets (rabbits, owls, dogs and cats to name a few) of our members, board and others. There is a new sense of collegiate working where we are all that little bit more open about our lives, as they are right there for all to see. Very few meetings occur without me giving an update from the smallholding I visit every day after work and it’s brilliant to bring a smile with the antics of the sheep and the ducks (and there are always antics).

Tech challenges aside, we have managed to deliver quite a few things online this year, our scheme managers conference, meetings for members, the board and stakeholders, Appropriate Adult training for ICVs and scheme managers with Dr Roxanne Dehaghani from Cardiff University and our first ever online ‘Train the Trainer’ sessions for scheme managers. We have two online events scheduled this week which are by far and away the largest ICV and scheme manager events ICVA have undertaken and we look forward to welcoming so many scheme representatives to them.

We have started to shape our resources as ‘straight to ICV’ resources. This means that rather than scheme managers having to deliver resources themselves, they are able to pass on the resources that we develop directly to the volunteers who visit custody. Schemes have really welcomed this approach and we will continue to focus on this method of delivery to assist schemes and keep ICVs engaged in the work in sometimes difficult circumstances for visiting.

There are then, many reasons to be thankful for online offerings, both in terms of relationship building and reach to wider audiences. Something to reflect on for sure, but we know that members also value face to face where they can, so this blog isn’t a statement of ‘online intent’, just one of reflection of some of the positives that the changes have brought.

We are in the process of finalising our business plan for next year, reflecting on the challenges and successes of this year. What that looks like might change as we continue to adapt to broader circumstances and things change in terms of the pandemic.

What I do know for sure is that future decisions will be as ever, driven by what our members tell us. I am excited for the future where we can continue to deliver resources in a way that suits them best, and allows for us as a small organisation to, as someone recently said, ‘to punch well above our weight’.