This time last year we published a New Year message that looked forward, with hope and confidence, to 2020. The year we got, in the event, wasn’t the year we had hoped for. No-one’s was.
As we look back now on the year that was, we recognise the extraordinary challenges it presented. And we recognise that, whatever the scale of the challenges that confronted us as an organisation, their impact on our clients was greater and more profound. For those now in the community but battling, daily, the effects of years of wrongful incarceration, the enforced and lengthy lockdowns – with their isolation and restriction – have been like a return to prison. For those still serving sentences, the regime they have endured this past year has been one of unprecedented harshness, isolation and anxiety. It has been a brutal year for everyone, but for our clients and for their families it has been an ordeal of particular severity. In wishing them all a better 2021, we express our admiration of their courage and humility in the year we leave behind.
Our task in 2020 became simply to be the best that we could be in the circumstances imposed upon us. It’s true that we didn’t meet all of our aspirations for the year – although we did record some notable victories in the course of it. But our ability to adapt, quickly, to a radically new “normal” was such that we close the book on 2020 confident that the service we provided was the best it could be, and that it was well and effectively delivered. And in that spirit, I choose to focus on what we did achieve, rather than what we did not.
Our core aftercare, reintegration and welfare rights services were delivered without interruption and, notwithstanding the practical challenges presented by Covid, delivered to the more intensive level demanded by the enhanced project plan we introduced at the start of the year. No client was denied the support he, or she, needed, and new clients were welcomed throughout the year. In the nature of our business, there are always new clients.
For our advocacy clients – those of our clients seeking to challenge wrongful convictions – the difficulties have been rather more unyielding. In a time of lockdowns and social distancing, we have been unable to visit clients in prison. We have been unable to engage fully with our friends in the legal profession, or with the SCCRC. We have been unable to utilise the skills and the enthusiasm of our volunteer casework team. Frustratingly, this has impacted on the pace of progress with some clients’ cases. We wish that were not so. But our core staff, who have remained at work throughout the crisis, have worked hard as a team and have met the challenge head-on. Real progress has been made with the ongoing casework. Contact and dialogue, and essential moral support, have been maintained with every client, and with their families. Every new application for our help has been engaged with, and processed.
We have sought to make a virtue of necessity. We have developed systems and practices that strengthen our resilience, moving forward. None of us can say, with conviction, when “normality” will be restored. Nor can we say what that might look like. But we look forward to the new year confident of our capacity to adapt to whatever we may face. We can, for example, now ensure data-secure remote working with our volunteers – with whom we hope to re-engage in the early part of the year. And we’ll be conducting remote training and awareness-raising seminars with a new intake of student volunteers, starting this month.
This time last year we were welcoming not just a new year, but a new decade. As an organisation, the hope we held for the decade remains undimmed, the confidence undiminished. This New Year we celebrate the 21st birthday of the 21st century. For all but the earliest days of the century, we’ve been doing the work Paddy Hill founded us to do. As we come of age, we re-dedicate ourselves to his mission. It is our mission. The bleak truth is that the institutional injustices that Paddy set out to tackle remain. They are a continuing blight on our society, and on our collective conscience.
We face this task from a position of great strength. We have unshakable belief in our cause. And we have strong foundations. From our dedicated board of trustees, who embody the ethos that makes MOJO what it is, to our staff and volunteer staff, to you, the many good people who support us in so many important ways. For your kind and often generous support, and for being there with us, we thank you.
Whatever 2021 holds for you, may it bring you health and happiness.