The second option in the last blog was much more appealing, closer to the ambitions that Bill Jordan had articulated and attended to in his Claimants’ union, and which I admired. There were serious problems with them however. First of all, they remained essentially professionally led, OK as a way of trying to attune professional skills and know how to client groups who might not be otherwise engaged, but thereby just a different way of doing essentially the same thing as we did in traditional office settings. Working in what was supposed to be a neighbourhood probation office in Sheffield helped fuel my scepticism – as far as I could see, the only significance of our ‘neighbourhood’ location was that clients had a shorter bus journey to get to us. Our location did nothing to make us more ‘community involved’ than any other team. Whether you saw a client in your office or in a church hall or GP surgery made little difference to the clients’ experience, other than relative convenience.
What is more, the more radical approach of locating the ‘office’ in the red light area proved unsustainable. Staff became exhausted and soon had their own lives to lead – no-one wanted to bring their children up in the locality and partners of probation staff did not necessarily want to engage in this experiment.
Lastly, I think it was not at all clear what the nature of professional work was understood to be in this more radical approach. All too easily being a professional was seen as a problem to be somehow disguised, as if this would break down barriers in working with offenders and convince them of the authenticity of our concern.