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

CHLOE BLAKE (National Probation Service, South West & South Central)

CHLOE BLAKE (National Probation Service, South West & South Central)

COMMENDEE 2019-20: Chloe is a Probation Officer for South West & South Central NPS. She is Commended for the skill, dedication, and humanity she brings to all aspects of her role, which includes managing some especially challenging individuals.

Chloe is a Band 4 Probation Officer for the Plymouth, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Delivery Unit of the South West South Central Division of the National Probation Service. She is Commended for her truly exceptional work, often with highly challenging and often dangerous people, attested to in an array of extremely powerful testimonials. As one of those says: “what wonders are possible when we treat others with humanity and respect, as Chloe does.”

Chloe’s initial nomination was made by Peter*, a released lifer who spent 37 years in prison, with the help of Senior Probation Officer (and 2018-19 Butler Trust Commendee) Lucy Van-Waterschoot. It’s worth quoting at length, both for its impact and its description of excellence in probation work:

‘This has been the happiest 6-7 months I have had in a long time. I have had a couple of times when I felt overwhelmed by the paperwork and thought – let’s go back to prison. Chloe has been an absolute pillar! When I need someone influential in my life I can go and be honest and have a chat with her. Even now I am still like a fish out of water, it is going to take a couple of years to navigate my way around all the paperwork and going on-line…I saw her on a video link and then on home leave. I wasn’t quite sure about putting my trust in someone. She met my friend, a released lifer who has been out 10 years. He told me that I could trust her and that he believed her. I met her and I felt, ‘I think I am going to make it.’ That is down to Chloe when I first met her. A lot of it is Chloe giving emotional support. If I go for a job and don’t get it she helps me look at other options.

‘…Chloe checks with me how I felt if things do not go too well. She sends me details of what is coming up on gumtree (for furniture). It is like it is not a job for her, a calling, a vocation. I have had other probation officers, I just wanted to keep my distance from them, with them it has been about paperwork. She lives for doing things for others. She does not sit still, she’s on the go…With Chloe I say what I really feel. When Chloe became my offender manager she picked me up again. She wants people to succeed. I want to make a right go of this. If I went back to prison she would take it that she failed. I really want to succeed as I don’t want to let her down…In 20 years, if I am alive, (I’ll be 78) I would like her to think “he’s still going strong” – knowing her as I know her, she will say I have done It all myself.’

Jonathan Nason, Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Plymouth, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LDU, picks up on the story, and is also eloquent about both Chloe’s work and its impact. “It may seem like bread and butter work for the Probation service – indeed, core business – but for Peter, Chloe represented the human, compassionate face of the National Probation Service. It is Peter, telling us that Chloe is his not only his ‘rock’, but his ‘lighthouse – guiding him, warning him, helping him find his way in the world, bringing him home’ that really sets Chloe above the rest.”

Jonathan adds that “there are untold acclamations about Chloe but what made Peter’s experience stand out his depiction of Chloe being extra-ordinary. After serving 37 years in prison he has encountered countless staff who have been charged with helping him reach a place where he was assessed as safe to be released. He spoke of a psychologist, a doctor and probation officers in HMP Grendon, all of whom were stepping stones that helped him recognise the need for him to change; however, it was Chloe who acted as the vital bridge between life inside and life outside; it was she who forged the necessary bond so that when he came out he had someone that he could trust – something essential for the management of his risk.”

Jonathan also notes that Peter’s words “resonate with the 3,000 year old saying of Lao Tzu:

“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves.’”

Chloe, who recently won the Ministry of Justice Award for Humanity and the divisional Probation Award for Changing Lives, continues to excel. Jonathan again:

“She inspires her colleagues and the service users she works with. We have countless stories from the heart, words of gratitude that are not often heard. Being around Chloe reminds me of why working with people who have offended is so worthwhile, of what wonders are possible when we treat others with humanity and respect, as Chloe does, and all of the time. She is an absolute gem to work with.”

Another former Butler Trust winner, Angela Auty, calls Chloe “the core heart, the central force of a spinning top in that no matter how fast things are moving, how demanding and how quick the momentum builds. No matter how many things are going on, she stays a reliable, dependable, centered individual holding up manifold demands, issues, people and dilemmas. She remains unwavering. She’s not put off-balance.”

Jonathan describes Chloe’s presence and her input as “like receiving a gift. Chloe is an anchor, leaving others with a feeling of hope, of belonging, with the knowledge that she cares and will give her all to help them. She also stands out because we see her potential bubbling like hot lava. Her belief that people can change if given the right environment, tools and encouragement is the essence of Probation.”

An incredible number of colleagues and offenders offered their own testimonial. F* described a team member feeling vulnerable with social isolation and health concerns, and noted that “Chloe was there with practical advice, humour, a hug & a tree for her to take home.” The Probation Officer reflected, “By providing reassurance and humour in a difficult situation we bonded as a team. Because she did that everybody else rallied around. As a team we bonded together, others benefited from seeing that when they need support and understanding we know that others are there for us when we are hitting rock bottom. It goes beyond working relationships, Chloe was raising morale in the office which helped us be more available for our work with offenders. We need this because of the type of work we do.”

Further powerful testimonial came from vulnerable young transgender service user, Becca*, who also wanted to nominate Chloe, and said:

“Chloe has done absolutely everything possible to help me, she never gave up on my life, even when I had. Chloe has changed my whole perception on people in general. I used to feel like the world was against me and everyone despised me, I felt useless & worthless & a waste of a life. With Chloe’s help I began to realise that not all people are bad, the world doesn’t hate me, I am worthy & deserving of happiness & my life matters. If Chloe had not helped me I would either be dead, in prison or on the streets using alcohol and drugs. My life was complete chaos and I had no direction, I was full of hatred and anger, I was out of control. Chloe stepped in & through pure determination and her passion to help others, she provided me with the means to transform my life.

“I have secured appropriate accommodation, joined a football team and gone to college. All these things have given my life a purpose again. She’s saved my life. I can guarantee there is nobody else in the whole probation service with the passion and enthusiasm to help people as she has. She is a truly exceptional and inspiring human being whose hard work needs to be recognised. She has changed my life in so many incredible ways I never thought possible… I feel incredibly privileged to have met Chloe, as long as I live I will never forget the support she has given me. She gave me hope that my future could be better than my past. Chloe has saved my life.”

Matt*, an Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) offender (those who pose a serious threat to the public), and who has lived in 96 foster homes, described how Chloe “has made time” for him, and “been flexible and willing to work things around me. She managed to liaise with my old support network which has been invaluable, I have been able to access additional support as a result.”

A colleague called Chloe “one of those rare individuals that has the ability to form warm supportive relationships with men whilst also balancing this by placing clear responsibility with the men she works with.”

SWSC Probation Divisional Director, Angela Cossins, asks:

“How many of us, even once in our lives are told that we have saved a life, and particularly under such challenging circumstances and with such high-risk and dangerous individuals? This is not the norm, to make such a profound impact; the reality is that it takes a certain type of person to achieve what Chloe has achieved, that goes above and beyond the many extra hours that she puts in; beyond best endeavours – it takes someone with remarkable and unique skills and dedication.”

Chloe herself explained that she views each person she works with as an individual and treats them “with the respect and compassion I would want someone to treat one of my family member with. I view each release from prison or Community Order as a fresh start and a chance for the person to reinvent themselves and move away from their offending behaviour, even if this is only small steps at a time.” She goes on:

“I see the people I work with as very much more than the sum of their offence. I see the damaged child, the betrayed partner, the lonely child, the struggling mother, the abused partner and the frightened young male. I recognise that they are someone’s son, daughter, brother or sister and I look for positive traits in them that can support me to find a way to work with people who have committed very serious crimes or who hold very different attitudes to myself. I feel privileged to have my job, as often these people have had childhoods and past experiences that we can only imagine, and for them to trust me and allow me to help and guide them feels very special.”

Her approach includes seeking out services and opportunities for them and “trying to make these bespoke, rather than a one size fits all. I will find out their interests and likes and will find opportunities in the community or programmes on television that may interest them and make them aware to demonstrate that I am thinking of them and see them as just another human being.”

Chloe concludes by remarking:

“Sometimes progression is not as quick as you would like it to be, but every small step in the right direction should be celebrated.”

* Names have been anonymised.

 

With thanks to the SWSC Plymouth, Cornwall & Isles of Scilly LDU, especially initial nominator Peter, supported by Senior Probation Officer Lucy Van-Waterschoot, Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Plymouth, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LDU Jonathan Nason, a wide range of colleagues and offenders, named and unnamed, including Becca, F, Matt, Angela, PB, CN, KA, TH, GB, AP, and AA, as well as SWSC Probation Divisional Director Angela Cossins, for their contributions.

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