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REVEREND BOB AKROYD (HMP Edinburgh)

REVEREND BOB AKROYD (HMP Edinburgh)

AWARD WINNER 2018-19: Bob is a Chaplain at HMP Edinburgh. He receives an Award for the exceptional enthusiasm, compassion and empathy he brings to his role, and in particular for the “tireless” support he gives to both prisoners and staff, regardless of faith, in times of personal crisis.
[This Award is supported by Seetec Justice.]

Initial Nominator and Acting Residential Officer Joanne Smith describes Bob as ‘incredibly friendly, genuine and larger than life’ and having the (widely noted) knack of being able to remember the name of every person he meets. ‘He is so well regarded,’ she adds, ‘that in most Residential Halls at HMP Edinburgh, the Chaplaincy Book is regularly referred to and in fact physically labelled up as ‘Bob’s Book’. He is regularly requested by name, by the individuals in our care who wish to seek the support regardless of their own beliefs/faith or lack thereof in many cases.’ She says ‘Bob does not expect anyone to share his faith, or even have a faith of their own, and is completely indiscriminate in his approach to supporting those around him.’

She says that ‘as well as being a favourite within the prisoner population he is also regularly requested for by staff, who are going through a rough time, whether professionally or personally,’ and adds her own ‘personal testimony to the fact that Bob delivers his full attention, making you feel safe and encapsulated by his love and devotion to God, delivering a support and guidance that I have never known anywhere or with anyone else before.’

She describes how Bob is regularly asked ‘to preside over the happy events’ in staff lives, like marriages, ‘but also in the more sombre occasions of funerals too.’ Bob is, she says, ‘a much loved, trusted and highly respected member of our staffing community here at HMP Edinburgh [which is] a brighter place because of him and would not be the same without him.’

In short, she says, ‘Bob unlocks potential and transforms lives. He helps each individual to shoulder their burdens and empowers them to move forward to a more positive future, where they are able to successfully tackle life and its problems head on, becoming the best and strongest version of themselves… a version they might not have even known, or dared hope, existed before his unwavering hand was offered in support.’

Local Butler Trust Champion and HR Business Partner Liz Fraser notes that HMP Edinburgh nominated Bob before, but made a further nomination as they felt ‘passionately’ his ‘continued exceptional efforts’ deserved fresh recognition, citing, in particular, his exceptional support for those who experience traumatic events.

She describes the difficult past three years in which staff experienced ‘the sudden death of seven serving members of staff, one in quite traumatic circumstances’, with Bob ‘tirelessly’ providing support to staff. She says ‘his engagement with this traditionally hard-nosed group is handled in a particularly sensitive manner with the work undertaken by him going a long way to moving staff on in the bereavement process.’ Further, in a number of instances, ‘he has led the funeral service and his unique approach to blending pastoral care with humour, compassion and empathy is always widely welcomed by the immediate family and also the congregation of friends and colleagues.’

Liz gives a moving example of Bob’s role in this community, in a service Bob delivered at the funeral of a serving officer ‘which touched the hearts of the hundreds of colleagues who attended, and was particularly welcomed by his family which included three teenage children who found themselves facing up to the unexpected and tragic death of their father. What was unique about Bob’s style was he didn’t sugar-coat the funeral service; he spoke honestly and truthfully about the passing of a ‘friend’ with a complex set of characteristics and also used humour appropriately to deliver one of the most personal and supportive funeral services I have attended… Bob has a way of making us laugh and cry at the same time but his words go a long way to helping us on the healing process.’

Two colleagues added simple but powerful words as testimonial: ‘He believes in everyone and in return everyone believes in him and trusts him at these delicate times in their lives’, said one, while another added: ‘This is a man who has the respect of all within this establishment. A true gentleman and a friend to all who want him as a friend.’

Edinburgh’s Governor in Charge, David Abernethy, calls Bob ‘a force of nature. He seems to have superhuman levels of energy and enthusiasm and I know that the staff and residents of HMP Edinburgh see Bob as their spiritual leader’, adding, ‘He just seems able to gauge exactly what is needed in every circumstance and just makes it happen… Bob was clearly born to do what he does and HMP Edinburgh is so fortunate to have Bob to look after us all.’

Bob says Edinburgh’s team of seven chaplains ‘serves a very diverse prison community’, and describes the work as ‘dynamic and demanding’. He says he tries ‘to treat each person with kindness and compassion and often ends each visit with prayer for them and their loved ones.’ He recalls at one point being told, ‘you are a chaplain to the prisoners and not to the staff’, cheerfully noting: ‘I have ignored this advice over the last 17 years.’

As well as offering care and comfort around deaths, Bob is pleased to report having conducted ‘more than 50 weddings. Thankfully, I have conducted many more weddings than funerals. In recent years, there have been several sudden deaths of serving officers.’ In one particularly moving case, he recalls conducting the marriage of an officer and then, three months later, being ‘asked by his family to conduct his funeral. He was 29. These events have shaken, stunned and saddened the entire community.’

As he says, and the Award recognises, ‘I think the whole prison community now realises that chaplains are there for everyone.’

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