Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2018-19: Chris is the Business Engagement Manager at HMP & YOI Hatfield. He receives a Commendation for his inspirational approach to training the men in his care. His work, helping create new opportunities for offenders, includes the aptly named prison farm shop, ‘Thyme Served’.
The Initial Nominator, Local Butler Trust Champion, and Hatfield’s Business Assurance Manager, Kirsty Mills, says Chris ‘always strives for excellence and has forged strong community links to secure employment places’, adding that he ‘is extremely personable and his enthusiasm to create the best and most appropriate opportunities for our men to aid their resettlement is second to none. Some of these employers offer permanent jobs to those upon their release giving them the chance to make a positive change and steer away from offending behaviour.’
Kirsty adds that Chris ‘worked tirelessly to open our own business enterprise, a farm shop located in the prison grounds and run by some of the men… The success of this enterprise has recently seen an expansion to double the shop in size!’ She praises Chris’s ‘vision’ in bringing to life the imaginatively named ‘Thyme Served’, which sells goods to staff and the public, giving the men ‘a sense of achievement and also the chance to hone and develop their skills.’
Meanwhile Chris has supported and encouraged the gardens team ‘to successfully walk away with a number of accolades at the Doncaster in Bloom Awards year on year.’ Hatfield’s repeated success recently included a raft of Gold and Silver Medals – including a Gold Award for ‘Best Business Premises’ and Silver Medals for the Local Community Group (Prisoners). As Kirsty notes, Chris’s ‘modest nature sees him attributing all of the praise to the gardens party but without his drive, ideas and support for others we would not be consistently winning these prestigious community awards.’ All this helps the reputation of Hatfield as part of the local community, she explains, and contributes ‘in a positive way that really goes a long way to combat negative perceptions of the prison service and those in our care.’
Chris has also forged a wide range of strong links with employers, and his approach has been ‘instrumental in our establishment receiving the 2017 Award as Timpson’s ‘Best Prison to Work With’. Timpson’s National Recruitment Ambassador wrote:
‘Congratulations to you and your team Chris, you guys have been great. I always mention you in a very positive light. HMP Hatfield are a great example of how it should be when an employer comes in. You would be amazed how some of them treat us. Looking forward to visiting again soon…’
A Learning and Skills manager at Hatfield, who Chris manages, says ‘he always has time for staff’ and ‘I personally have received lots of support from Chris both as my colleague and as my Line Manager.’ Meanwhile the men working in ‘Thyme Served farm shop’ said ‘Chris is always willing to listen’ to their input and to help ‘try to make their ideas come to life.’
Another initiative has repaired tools for local schools and community gardeners who benefited from HMP Hatfield’s ‘Tools Shed garden tool giveaway’. This was part of The Conservation Foundation’s Tools Shed project. Following a successful pilot at Wandsworth Prison in 2006, there are now Tools Shed workshops at six English prisons with support from the Big Lottery ‘Reaching Communities’ Fund. Over the past 12 years, many thousands of tools have been given a new lease of life in prison workshops before being given away free to good causes.
As the driving force behind ‘Thyme Served’, local news coverage ran a report in which Chris said:
‘[he hoped] the shop would generate an income to reinvest back into the prison, while promoting to the public the work prisoners do as they work towards settlement back into society on completion of their sentences… We see it as an opportunity to forge closer links with the local community by inviting them onto our footprint to engage with us and prisoners, who serve the customers in our shop. This develops good community relations, builds up public confidence in the work we do, and gives our prisoners the important skills and experiences that will be beneficial to them on release and help them resettle back into their communities.’
Julia Spence, Governing Governor, says ‘Chris displays a level of enthusiasm in his role that has seen our Reducing Reoffending function really shine’, and that the Thyme Served shop ‘has been well received by both staff and the public with many commenting on the quality of goods available. Profits from the farm shop have also assisted in an expansion of the shop with plans to add a coffee shop attached for additional revenue and job places for men.’
Chris wears several ‘hats’ at Hatfield. As Industries manager, he supervises 13 staff, and the team has helped ensure ‘Hatfield has no unemployment, with 100% of prisoners engaged in work or education every day. The men receive accredited training and on the job work experience across several sectors including: Horticulture (Amenity & Commercial), Welding, Joinery & Furniture craft, Recycling, Handyman Services, Industrial cleaning, Bicycle repair and Retail.’
Meanwhile, as Business and Community Engagement Manager, Chris works closely with external employers, charities and organisations ‘both in the Commercial and Voluntary sector’, which he calls ‘intensely time-consuming’ but ‘extremely rewarding’. Hatfield, he reports, ‘currently have over 100 men working out every day across all sectors, working in partnership with over 50 organisations.’
As Chris himself says, ‘The satisfaction I get from seeing an individual get a job and a chance not only for himself but for the future success of his own family is immense.’