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CHRIS BOAKES (HMP & YOI East Sutton Park)

CHRIS BOAKES (HMP & YOI East Sutton Park)

Chris Boakes

COMMENDEE 2022-23: Chris receives a Commendation for his outstanding commitment to excellence and rehabilitation in his work as the Land Based Activities and Farms Manager at HMP/YOI East Sutton Park, transforming both the prison grounds and the lives of the women in his care.

John Hasemore was Chris Boakes’ Initial Nominator, and is East Sutton Park’s Head of Reducing Reoffending. He noted that, while Chris brings thirty years of experience in the Prison Service as a specialist to his current role as a Band 6 Land Based Activities & Farm Manager, it was the pandemic that led to Chris ‘pushing forwards with radical projects which have transformed the prison and its 84 acres.’ These include new habitat creation, with the main project’s focus on the estate lake, used by many waterfowl and home to ‘a rare isolated group of ancient wild carp and fresh water mussels which can live to a staggering 200 years.’ The details are impressive:

‘Adjacent to the old Victorian boat house there is another historic water body which has remained shallow for decades. This has been successfully damned to create another lake which then flows through the boat house into the larger lake. The whole area has then been fenced to allow controlled management of the grassland adjacent to the water’s edge. Much of the banks and neighbouring woodland have been seeded and planted with indigenous plant species applicable to the specific habitats. Amongst these area hibernacula and eco-piles have been created using brush wood, leaf litter and old logs. Surveys have noted the deficiency of plant life in the water so Chris has introduced marginal and oxygenating aquatic plants to improve the bio-diversity.’

Meanwhile many of the formal lawns have been left to ‘naturalise’, says John, and now new plants — including Pyramidal orchids – are colonising. New sowing and ‘overseeding’ has led to ‘carpets of perennial and annual wild flowers for the benefit of bees and other pollinators.’  Hibernacula and eco-piles have again been used, promoting invertebrates, small rodents and reptiles. Meanwhile, adds John, ‘walkways have been mown between the wild areas so residents can wander during association times and enjoy our surroundings and the stunning views across the Weald of Kent.’ Even more exciting, says John, is news that ‘some weeks ago we found otter spraint on a log floating within the water and hopefully will catch sight on camera soon.’

Another project that Chris has driven is Growing for Good, a social enterprise using the site’s greenhouses to raise ‘beautiful plants of all shapes and sizes that make indoor and outdoor living areas healthier, happier and more inviting.’ John says of Chris that ‘without his determination this project would not have got off the ground.’ The results are extremely impressive, adds John, and having a wide impact:

We now have women growing and nurturing beautiful, resilient houseplants, which are sold directly through an online shop, as well as attending corporate premises for plantscaping and maintaining services. Recently the project has also opened a retail shop in the local area and this also offers paid employment to our women. The project has rightly received a High Sheriff of Kent award and is now looking to expand into other prisons.’

Butler Trust Local Champion Ian Hird, East Sutton Park’s Head of Business Assurance, shared testimonials from some of those women. Daniella praises ‘The physical and psychological benefits that I have experienced whilst working and walking in the countryside’ and says she would like others to experience them, too. Denise said working on the Farm was ‘hard work’ but also that it was ‘lots of fun working and getting to know the animals who have their own personalities.’ Lauren says that being out and about in the fields ‘gives me a sense of freedom,’ while Nettie says:

‘I want you to know how at peace I am whilst working with nature...I feel stronger and more relaxed and am also able to give back and better the world. I love the fact that I’m always learning and discovering new things through the project. Some of the people I’ve met and the personal relationships I’ve built through the project itself are now friends for life.’

John describes Chris as a cheerful and resourceful team manager and ‘a real asset to the prison.’ He lists just some of the results over the past year, including training 16 prisoners to reach NPTC certificates of competence in safe use of machinery, seven NVQ Diplomas at Level 2 & 3 in agriculture or horticulture, and the business, even under trying circumstances, generating £104,000 in cash receipts and £12,500 in internal transfers to the prison kitchens at East Sutton Park & Downview. A lot of this, he says, is down to Chris’s ‘infectious can-do attitude’.

HMP/YOI Downview & HMP/YOI East Sutton Park’s Governor, Amy Dixon, agrees, saying Chris ‘provided consistent exceptional leadership to deliver excellent outcomes in the most difficult of circumstances.’ She adds Chris delivers ‘day in, day out’ and that ‘without his drive and passion we know that something special would be abrogated.’ Above all, she says, it’s the ‘real life, astounding outcomes that he delivers every day – always reaching higher, always pursuing excellence and always believing in the power of our women, our team and in rehabilitation.’

Chris himself says ‘I feel proud to realise the joy and often life changing interactions’ it creates, adding that ‘I have never encountered a boring day without an element of achievement that can go towards helping others improve their lives.’ He concludes by saying ‘Most important of all I have never lost the enthusiasm for the job and endeavour to pass my skills and wisdom on to keep the wheel turning.’