Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

ANDREW SMALL (HMP Huntercombe)

ANDREW SMALL (HMP Huntercombe)

AWARD WINNER 2013-14: Andrew was nominated for his inspirational work as a PE Senior Officer at HMP Huntercombe. By training prisoners to work as personal trainers across the jail, introducing a wide range of activities tailored to different abilities and interests, providing personal support to individual prisoners, and working closely with the prison’s mental health and safeguarding departments, he has transformed not only the lives of prisoners but also the health of the establishment as a whole. (This Award is supported by the Prison Officers’ Association (POA).


[Andrew Small gives his account of the work for which he won his Award]

I received my Butler Trust award for innovating PE (Physical Education) at HMP Huntercombe. Prisoners gain industry standard qualifications levels 1 to 4. Successful Prisoners work as mentors within the Prison and offer Personal Training to staff and other Prisoners. A community environment has been created and given many a career upon release.

I transferred from HMP Pentonville to HMP Huntercombe in August 2002 as a PE Officer. The department comprised of a PE Senior Officer and 5 PE Officers including myself. Huntercombe was a young offender institute (YOI) holding 360 fifteen to eighteen year olds some of whom were the most challenging in the YOI system. PE at that time was rather rudimentary with only basic training and sporting sessions timetabled, educational or vocational courses were not offered. Within 6 months I organised and delivered a level 2 NVQ Sports and Recreational course and level 1 British Weightlifting Award. This was followed by Basketball and Volleyball Leaders Awards. With each course I delivered I ensured other members of the PE team were fully engaged so they had the skills and confidence to manage future courses.

In 2002 the PESO retired and I was promoted to fill the PE Manager post. We continued to deliver NVQ and various Leader courses. At this point I decided to move the educational courses in a slightly different direction. I visited some local leisure clubs and sports centres to inquire what qualifications they required for their employees. I used the meetings to speak with centre managers regarding the possibility of work placements for the young people in our care. Due to these consultations we changed from NVQ to VRQ’s. We based our courses around Level 2 Gym Instructors Award with add on courses such as Level 2 Circuit Training and Level 2 Adapting Gym for Adolescents.

I employed the same process of staff training as before so all PE staff were confident and competent to run the courses.  We now had a group of trained young people ready for work experience. The Didcot Wave Leisure Centre agreed to provide work experience after interviews and appropriate risk assessment. This was a great achievement for the young people involved. The centre wanted to employ some of the young people on a full time basis but unfortunately they were from the London area.

Alongside the Vocational courses we ran GCSE PE which was very successful with many B and C grades achieved.

As a department we could see the potential of these young men and tried to harness their enthusiasm for all things Gym and Sport related. We were the first PE department to deliver a successful Level 3 course to young Prisoners. The skills and knowledge gained by these young men helped many gain jobs in fitness industry. This process of training and work experience continued until HMYOI Huntercombe was closed in 2010.

The Prison re-opened 6 months later as an adult Category C Male. The re-role meant a reduction of PE staff to PESO and 6 PE Officers.

As the goal of our training courses had not changed we continued to offer industry standard qualifications. We added Level 3 Personal Trainer Award (PT) to our offering, all PE staff were up-skilled and then able to deliver using the same process as with previous courses.

The Prisoners were extremely keen to progress, to facilitate this enthusiasm we offered a Level 4 Exercise for Lower Back Pain qualification. We were the first PE department to deliver a Level 4 course. When Prisoners completed the PT course they were offered jobs within the Prison as a Personal Trainer. We can have up to 12 PT’s employed in the Prison. At one point there were 120 Prisoners at Huntercombe with their own PT. Many PT’s have been released to find employment in the fitness industry with 3 starting up their own PT business. Further to this the PT’s acted as mentors to other Prisoners on Level 1 and 2 courses. This mentor system became invaluable when Huntercombe changed again to a Foreign National only Prison. The difficulties regarding languages were overcome by the mentor system.

The PT/Mentor system had many unforeseen benefits to the Prison. It has given the Prison a real community feel with over 90% of the population regarding attending Gym sessions with up to one third utilising their own PT.

In December 2012 the PE department was granted Enabling Environment Status by Royal College of Psychiatry. The first gained by any Prison Department. This award is usually only granted to care homes or hospital type settings. The award is a reflection of the inclusive and caring environment created by the PE department at Huntercombe.


[The following article appeared in issue 6 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]

Exercise and training is well known to play an integral role in improving the mental as well as physical health of prisoners, and PE Senior Officer Andrew Small’s dedication and determination has led to the physical education department at Oxfordshire’s HMP Huntercombe being recognised as a national centre of excellence.

The department was given the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Enabling Environments Award in December 2012, and Andrew can now add to that his own Butler Trust Award, sponsored by the Prison Officers’ Association. Called ‘an inspiration to staff and our population with his passion and drive’ by Governor Nigel Atkinson, Andrew transferred from Pentonville in 2002 and was promoted to Senior Officer the following year. He quickly set about implementing new ways of working and creating an environment that was shaped by the needs of the prisoners.

‘At the time we had young prisoners who were 15 to 18 and extremely volatile, so there was a lot of hard work put in by all of us to create an inclusive atmosphere for those guys and get them some self belief,’ he tells Inspire. ‘They’d been kind of let down by everyone and then they came to us and we got them qualifications up to the Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training. We were the first prison in the country to do that for young people.’

Colleagues praise his ‘tenacity, dedication and commitment to the support, care and development’ of both prisoners and staff, and his creation of a ‘caring, respectful and mutually supportive environment’ within the PE department and the wider establishment.

‘We just got on with it really,’ he says. ‘The staff found out what we were doing and the education department found out that we were going to higher levels than they were despite the millions of pounds being pumped into them – they couldn’t get the same outcomes so they were coming to see how we worked with the prisoners. Some of the feedback from those guys said, “you and your staff all seem to have an aura around you.” When you’re working with 50, 60 young kids it’s nice to hear things like that. There’s six staff and we’ve all worked together for ten years and more.’

Andrew also works closely with the mental health and safeguarding departments to support vulnerable prisoners and encourage active participation from everyone, and his approachable manner means prisoners are happy to go to him for help and advice.

‘I didn’t know of any other prisons that did this stuff at the time,’ he states. ‘Now with the new ways of working in the prison service – like Fair and Sustainable and benchmarking – prisons are going to stay open all day, but after about 4.30pm you wouldn’t see a prisoner in the gym. We worked it with security and the governor to allow up to ten young people in during the teatime lockup, so they gained some confidence in coming to the gym and seeing that it wasn’t a scary place after all. After that we managed to integrate them into normal sessions, and the result of all that was going up to 80-90 per cent attendance, which is unheard of. Compare that to the outside – 90 per cent of people don’t attend a gym, do they?’

Once a culture like that is established it takes on a life of its own, he believes, and it continued when Huntercombe became a Category C adult prison in late 2010 and more recently when another change of function saw the establishment move to holding an exclusively foreign national population.

‘When we changed over to adults, we still kept the teatime lockup gym going for guys who were a little bit wary of coming to the gym,’ he says. ‘So some of the adults who were a bit reticent about the whole thing with PE could come to quiet sessions, have their own personal trainer – who we train up in-house – and think “oh, the gym’s not too bad” and then they’ll come to normal sessions. So they’re getting integrated again into normal PE and normal prison life.’

The results have been dramatic, he states, with ‘people losing vast amounts of weight, getting fitter, and staff have access to the personal trainers, so they’ll book sessions with them as well. We want to expose our personal trainers to different people – staff and females as well, so that when they go out and try to get work they know how to deal with females as well as males.’

Inclusivity and empowerment are central to his philosophy, and to this end he’s also set up a gym-based mentoring scheme for prisoners. ‘As soon as guys come into the prison they get inducted by us, explained everything that’s on offer, including the personal trainers,’ he says. ‘If they apply to have a personal trainer that guy will then go and see them on their wing. On each wing there’s a small gym with basic equipment, so if someone doesn’t want to go to the gym to start with he’ll go to one of these small gyms with his personal trainer and go through some very basic routines. We’ll build him up from there and then he’ll come to the teatime gym and then come again with the personal trainer to the full session, so we’ve got that whole mentoring thing from start through to finish.’

People who have completed levels one and two of the courses then spend time with those on the current level one course to help them through it, he explains, offering diet and nutritional advice as well. ‘With all the different languages we have it can be a real problem, but if there’s a Polish guy on the level one course there’ll be one who’s completed that and the level two and who can support him. We use the level three personal trainer guys to then help the level two guys, so it’s a really good support mechanism. It works really well.

‘I’d love to take credit for it, but it’s about giving the prisoners the rein to do that – they come up with these ideas, some things just happen organically and then we’ll harness it and make it formal,’ he continues. ‘It’s creating the initial positive environment and then you can move on from there.’

Huntercombe is also the only prison in the country to offer an optional level four trainer qualification, and the peer support scheme – and general air of inclusivity – has been credited with creating a much more friendly and positive environment and improving integration, something that’s particularly important given the 86 different nationalities housed. Andrew has also initiated team sports such as cricket and volleyball to help foster cohesion, activities which have also proved popular with men who had previously avoided the gym.

An HM Chief Inspector of Prisons report in January 2013 found that ‘PE was well-managed and a highly qualified team providing a range of recreational activities and accredited programmes relevant to employment’ with high achievement rates, while the ‘Enabling Environments’ award was the first given to a prison, despite a number of them seeking accreditation.

Usually exclusive to particularly high-performing departments in care settings such as hospitals, the award denotes an environment ‘where participants feel safe enough to develop relationships and to share experiences and ideas with others’ and which require ‘leadership and support to take risks and be open to new ideas and relationships’.

‘Getting that was really good, because other prisons had gone for it, even prisons like Grendon that has a therapeutic community and tries to be more like a hospital,’ he says. ‘But we were the first in the country to get it so it really was a cherry on the cake for the work we’ve put in over the last ten years creating an inclusive environment where prisoners decided what they wanted to do – obviously within certain guidelines. It was a fantastic achievement to get it, and the governor was really pleased because this is the direction that the prison service wants to go in. Other prisons have been tapping me up for knowledge we gained from going through the process, and we plan on expanding it further within Huntercombe as well.’

So how does it feel to get a Butler Trust Award as well?  ‘I’m very pleased and I feel very humbled,’ he says. ‘It’s work that myself and colleagues have done over the last ten years, and also a lot of work from the prisoners, so probably like a lot of people in my position who win awards you can feel a little bit of a fraud because of the work that other people do. It’s very humbling to get an award for the work we do daily.’


For more information: contact HMP Huntercombe

Top of the page