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Delivering Probation services in a rural area during COVID-19


Working in a rural area in Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic has its own distinct challenges. Yet staff in probation rural teams have been working hard to find creative solutions to overcome the isolation and deliver essential services.

A/Area Manager in North Antrim Denise Stewart writes: “An important element of my work is staying connected to team members who are now dispersed and working from home. I make a point of keeping in telephone contact with my team as much as possible. I am mindful that everyone’s circumstances are different. Some staff members have young families, are caring for vulnerable relations, others live alone. There can also be difficulties in getting a balance when you are working from home. Importantly we have also set up a WhatsApp group to stay more connected and it has been really important in keeping us all connected and there is a lot of reassurance for staff in being able to see and speak to one another.”

Likewise, working with service users means thinking differently about service delivery.

Probation Services Officer Cheryl Johnston says: “My role is to deliver interventions to help people change their behaviour and take responsibility for their actions. I am now delivering one to one interventions over the phone and through video calls. This approach is not without its challenges and has had a mixed response from service users. One of my service users is a single mum with two children and it has been difficult for her to focus on the telephone as she is constantly being interrupted as she has no childcare. Yet another service user reports that she finds telephone contact actually works better for her as she can be more open and forthcoming on the telephone than by talking face to face.”

Service users in rural areas have reported difficulties in accessing local services and in some cases, the only contact they have in any given day is from probation. Probation staff therefore have the added responsibility of trying to ensure service users, particularly those who are vulnerable, have basic necessities.

Denise continued: “Every time a probation officer makes contact with an individual service user we need to consider whether they are living alone, do they have mental health issues, or are they struggling with addictions? As well as holding people to account, we are asking questions about their basic needs. Are you coping? Do you have enough food? Do you have electricity? Do you have medication?”

“Living and working through this experience has certainly had its challenges, however probation staff living and working in local rural communities continue to play their part in delivering services to keep people safe.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) PBNI Information and Advice

PBNI response to COVID-19 Pandemic

In March 2020 the work of probation in Northern Ireland changed beyond recognition. Coronavirus poses the biggest threat any of us have ever seen in our lifetime.
In response to the pandemic and the unprecedented restrictions imposed by the UK Government and NI Executive , the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) made very significant changes to its operational practice and working arrangements.

On 23 March in order to comply with the Government’s measures in relation to social distancing and working where possible from home, PBNI streamlined its service delivery, closing its eleven offices and instead opened seven ‘operational hubs’ throughout Northern Ireland. On 1 April, PBNI published its ‘interim operational arrangements’, which covers case management, programme delivery, work in courts, work in prisons and work with victims of crime.

The majority of PBNI staff have been enabled to work effectively remotely from home with access to PBNI case management system and records. The use of video and teleconferencing has been of paramount importance in enabling staff to deliver programmes and complete supervision. Teleconferencing has been introduced for staff to keep in contact with each other and service users.

PBNI has also increased the use of its mobile phone app ‘Changing Lives’ which aims to provide services users with a range of resources and tools on their mobile device.


PBNI Headquarters
80-90 North Street
Belfast BT1 1LD
Tel: (028) 9052 2522
– open every day between 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

Newry Probation Office
1d Monaghan Street
County Down
BT35 6BB
Tel: (028) 3025 3030
email: admin.newry@probation-ni.gov.uk
– open every Monday between 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

Omagh Probation Office
Sperrin Centre
1 Market Street
BT78 1EE
Tel: (028) 8225 4872
email: admin.omagh@probation-ni.gov.uk
– open every Tuesday between and 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

Derry – Shipquay Street Probation Office
25 Shipquay Street
BT48 6DL
Tel: (028) 7131 9670
email: admin.waterside@probation-ni.gov.uk
– open every Wednesday between 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

Dungannon Probation Office
2 Feeney’s Lane
County Tyrone
BT70 1TX
Tel: (028) 8775 4848
email: admin.dungannon@probation-ni.gov.uk
– open every Thursday between 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

Portadown Probation Office
12 Church Street
Co. Armagh BT62 3LQ
Tel: (028) 3839 7575
email: admin.portadown@probation-ni.gov.uk
– open every Thursday between 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

Ballymena Probation Office
3 Wellington Court
BT43 6EQ
Tel: (028) 2566 2345
– open every Friday between 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users