Blog: Volunteering for the sake of volunteering

This week is #VolunteerWeek and the Centre would like to thank all its volunteers who contribute so much to advancing the Centre's mission of challenging miscarriages of justice. In this blog post, CCA volunteer Laura Fensterheim shares her thoughts on volunteering with us.

I first became aware of the Centre for Criminal Appeals while working as a sales assistant for Lush Cosmetics. While helping out with an in-store fundraising event I learnt about the important work the CCA do in challenging injustice and campaigning for reform of our criminal justice system. The charity’s work is even more impressive given their minimal funding and small team (six staff).  

While I’ve always been interested in miscarriages of justice and the failures of the penal system – I’ve devoured several seasons of Serial and various true crime documentaries – much of my attention has focused on the inequities of the US criminal justice system rather than our own. As public interest in the gross injustices of the US justice system continues to grow, whipped-up by a wealth of TV shows, podcasts and media articles, there’s a temptation to see the British system as somehow superior: as meeker and kinder in comparison.

Laura Volunteer

After speaking to the CCA’s small, dedicated team of employees and volunteers, I learnt about the less obvious injustices endemic to the British criminal justice system, from council tax imprisonment to restrictions in accessing vital evidence. After learning about the CCA’s mission I knew I needed to get involved in any way I could.

I’ve now been volunteering at the Centre for around 6 months. Every Thursday I pop in and help out with various tasks ranging from the menial but important to the more challenging – from transcribing audio files and completing basic administrative tasks to assisting with case investigations.  No day is ever the same, and while the tasks I do are often varied, the friendly work environment and dedication to the charity’s cause - from employees and volunteers alike - is a constant.

I’ve learnt a lot while volunteering with the CCA. My favourite experience has to be attending the second-ever Bound by Injustice event, which brought together victims of wrongful convictions and their loved ones, as well as CCA employees and volunteers. It was a privilege to witness the group’s courage, resilience and determination to effect change; listening to their stories of isolation and trauma truly brought home the human cost of our broken justice system.

Volunteering at the CCA has also been a journey of personal development. In helping out in various capacities, I’ve learnt to be adaptable and honed my research and communication skills. Although I don’t intend to pursue a career in law, the experience has compounded my transferable skills and given me valuable insight into a little known aspect of the legal system.

In a society that often privileges the transactional nature of work over the value of voluntary contribution, volunteering can seem like a redundant concept. When volunteering is praised, it is often only in terms of its potential to enhance your CV. While volunteering undoubtedly provides you with skills and experience valuable to the world of work, the gratification I take from it is the knowledge of having contributed something good and worthwhile to the world.

Naima Sakande