In 1993, Peter Stell left the peace of the Fens for the din and smell of what was then Europe’s busiest prison.
It was Liverpool prison, where inmates on some wings were still slopping out in an environment resembling a Victorian penal institution.
Peter went there as CofE chaplain, a role that has taken him to a number of prisons since, ending up at North Sea Camp near Boston.
At North Sea Camp, his job was enlarged to include the role of community chaplain, forging links with community groups that could both visit prisoners and give them support on release.
That took him full circle from his time as assistant priest at St John’s Church in Spalding and at the parish of Deeping St Nicholas, when, as far as Peter knows, he created the first community chaplaincy in the UK.
It was the late 1980s and a time when people with mental health problems were being taken out of institutions and having to learn to live independently in the community. A community chaplaincy was established involving Churches Together in Spalding & District together with the local health authority and agencies like Mind and Mencap to offer support to those people.
Interestingly, when Peter was working to establish the community chaplaincy at North Sea Camp, among the first people to visit on a regular basis was the Rev Peter Garland and some of the parishioners from St John’s Church in Spalding.
Peter says: “The idea of community chaplaincy was born in my head and my heart in Spalding in the late 1980s-early 1990s and was re-born in 2005-6 when I had the idea of engaging the community with the prison and the prison with the community.”
The importance of community support for people with mental health issues or prisoners preparing to enter society again are obvious.
Peter says: “Community chaplaincy brings communities together; it forges links and creates opportunities for people to be of service to people in need.”
After 20 years as a prison service chaplain, Peter has just taken on a new role as lead hospice chaplain with Sue Ryder at Thorpe Hall in Peterborough, an organisation that is already embedded in the hearts of many people in Spalding and district.
Peter’s job, apart from supporting the 60 per cent of patients who go there for respite care and the 40 per cent who go for end of life care, is also to support their families and – just as important – the staff of Thorpe Hall.
Peter says: “The foundation stones for hospital, prison, community and now hospice chaplaincy were laid down in Spalding. My days of ministry in Spalding, centring on St John’s Church and St Nicholas Parish Church were among the best days of my life.”