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COMMENDEE 2016-17: Andrew, Senior Catering Officer at HMP Maghaberry, is Commended for the widespread impact he has had on prisoners, staff and the wider community, as a result of his tireless efforts to make a difference.

Andrew Smith, currently a Senior Catering Officer at HMP Maghaberry in Northern Ireland, has transformed catering in the prison for staff, for prisoners, and for the many people beyond who have benefited from his benevolent and charitable projects (which have collectively raised many thousands of pounds) – including, not least, a lucky group of pensioners who were invited into the prison to enjoy a gourmet five course Christmas dinner.

Initial nominator and fellow Maghaberry Officer Wesley Wiley says Andy “is constantly thinking up new ideas and fund raising initiatives.”

One recent fund-raiser Andy organised, to support the A21 anti-human trafficking campaign, involved the kitchen baking no less than 12,000 scones and shortbread for an A21 event. An even greater impact for the prison came when Andy put together a new staff café – for a number of years there hadn’t been one in Maghaberry, one of the estate’s toughest prisons to work in. With a minimal budget, he brigaded skills and inputs from across the prison, with “trades, gardens, painting and stores, arts & crafts and others ” recruited to play their part in getting the café up and running. As Wesley reports, this great success “has given staff a place to retreat, stress-free, at lunch times.”

Building on this – and generating significant goodwill for the service – Andy asked the Chaplaincy to invite sixty pensioners from the local community, from a variety of backgrounds, to a Christmas lunch. As Andy explains, “The kitchen staff and prisoner workforce prepared a five course gourmet lunch which was served on the day.” Wesley takes up the story: “Not content with just giving them a free lunch, he raised money so each pensioner was able to go home with a small gift.” This was a first for a Northern Ireland prison, and generated significant goodwill for the service.

Wesley adds that “around this time Andy was approached by the Governor to organise a Christmas meal to thank the prisoners who are employed in various roles throughout the jail. He willingly took this on board as well as providing each staff member with a free dinner as a thank you for their loyalty and service throughout the year.”

This event was much more than a meal, too, as Andy recalls: “On the day, 75 prisoners, including the kitchen workforce, sat together in the staff café and were served a three course meal by a team of waiters comprising of prison staff from their respective departments. Each attendee received a small gift provided by the staff. This was an experimental event but had the full backing of the senior management team. All of the staff involved gave their own time to assist with the event and it was an excellent way to reward the prisoners for their help throughout the year.”

As Wesley explains, Andy has employed a wide range of cultures in the prison, and this led, among other benefits, to the Chinese prisoners cooking an outstanding buffet for Chinese New Year. Staff were able to purchase the buffet in the staff café, “and with the money raised from this Andy was able to present a cheque for £1,100 to Northern Ireland Kidney Transplant Research Unit from the money raised from this event.” The Chinese prisoners donated a clock they had made in the pottery department to the staff café, adds Andy, who says, “I feel that events such as this help cement relationships with the different cultural backgrounds within the prison.”

Incidentally, Northern Ireland has a global reputation for kidney transplants, and this choice of charity was a result of a member of staff donating a kidney. Again, taking the ‘learning opportunity’ at hand, Andy galvanised both staff and prisoners who baked enough scones, buns and cakes (in addition to the usual work of providing 2,000 meals a day) to raise over a thousand pounds for the unit.

As well as introducing National Vocational Qualification Level 1 & 2 training for prisoners in the kitchen for the first time, reports Wesley, “Andy has also organised many sporting competitions, including football, badminton and so on, between prisoners and staff, keeping up morale for everyone involved.”

David Savage, Governor, Head of Residence and Prison Safety, and the Butler Trust Local Champion, says Andy has also been instrumental in increasing the prisoner workforce within the prisoner kitchen by almost 100%. “His prisoner workforce is a standout example to the rest of the Northern Ireland community”, says David, especially regarding cross cultural and community working. With over ten nationalities employed, reports David, and a vast array of religions, “all employed prisoners work hand in hand with staff with little or no disciplinary issues.”

The success of the staff café led to visitors enjoying high quality food “including the Minister of Justice, Permanent Under Secretary for Justice, Visiting Archbishops, Governors from other jurisdictions, and invited voluntary groups”, says David, and several of them “have heaped praise on the venture.” Unsurprisingly, he regards Andy as “an example of what every young prison officer should aspire to be.”

Andy originally joined the Northern Ireland Prison Service in 1994, says David, “following a long and distinguished career within the military” from which he retired as a Master Chef. “An exemplary officer who is an excellent role model for those who work under his tutelage within the prison catering function,” it’s David’s view that “what makes Andy stand out from the crowd” and indeed makes him “unique” among prison staff – “from all jurisdictions which I have visited” – is “his dedication to his job and the personal deep feeling he has for his staff and his workforce.”

David concludes by remarking, “leadership has been described as being ‘the ability to see a need for change and the ability to make it happen’. Andy demonstrates this endlessly within the prison setting. He has vitality, values and vision, and [as a result] HMP Maghaberry is without doubt a better place.”

Colin McCready, Head of Operations, praised Andy’s “determination to ensure the population is well nourished and happy.” Security Governor, Brian Armour, adds that “Andy and his team will be first in and frequently last out of the prison during incidents, keeping the rest of the prison well fed and calm… He has and maintains a highly motivated team, who I feel draw directly on his enthusiasm and drive.”

Aidan*, a serving prisoner and kitchen worker, has this to say: “Mr Smith, Andy, has helped me more than anyone in the prison could know – including him. He has given me skills; advice and learning which I did not think were possible when I came to prison. I now have an NVQ and skills which will allow me to go out of jail and get a job and not to return to custody. He is firm and assertive but also kind and caring.”

Andy himself describes a number of other initiatives he’s led, including “different theme days in the staff café, which seems to boost the morale of staff”, and a decked overflow area for good weather, “which allows staff to unwind and relax in surroundings which are apart from the prison.”

The staff café, he reports, also caters for outside hospitality events, which “is good for the NVQ scheme as it covers different hospitality requirements.” In addition, says Andy, “I have recently hosted a cook-off competition, which included members from the other two prisons in Northern Ireland and gave an opportunity for the prisoners and staff to showcase their catering skills.”

This panoply of initiatives, from nourishment and training to fund-raising and competitions, contributes, says Andy, “to better morale and overall well-being. In conclusion, everyone is a winner!” (Now including Andy).

* Name changed

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