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

EVE CHESTER (North West National Probation Service)

EVE CHESTER (North West National Probation Service)

COMMENDEE 2020-21: Eve is a Probation Officer described by her initial nominator, Senior Probation Officer Caroline Bewley, as “a special woman, an amazing woman, probation worker, union supporter and friend to many.”  Caroline adds that “Eve continues to give 120% to every person she works with or for. Her ethic of caring for the individual in front of her; irrespective of who they are, what they have done or whether they are being fair or realistic never waivers. Eve has dedicated her working career to helping people and keeping communities safe,” she says. “She does this with drive and determination but most of all, empathy and un-rivalled compassion.”

Caroline says Eve “epitomises to me what a professional employee of the Probation Service represents” and “believes that everyone can change and be a better person and this is contagious to those around her.  She has commitment to get the best outcome for all and will give up her time to mentor and coach people to be the best they can. She reflects the vocation that is in her heart every day and this shines through – meaning she doesn’t just get the job done; she does it with integrity, dignity and humbleness.”

Eve’s commitment to caring for people, says Caroline “is unprecedented and in my 20 plus years in the NPS I have never worked with a person with more energy (still – even in her early 60s), ability to engage with change (including technology) and to be there for everyone.” In short, she concludes, “Eve Chester is inspirational.”

Yvette Billinton, NPS Regional Business Manager and Butler Trust Champion, shared a number of testimonials, including Alison Rea, a Probation Officer, Staff Support Officer, Staff Engagement and Well-Being Champion, who says Eve “has a real sixth sense for recognising when people need a boost. She has been our secret well-being fairy (a secret no more) scattering tissue hearts on our desks, Easter eggs, Christmas tree decorations and felt flowers. I have incredible admiration for her tireless work with the union and with staff in challenging times and she has been a constant source of support for the whole of Preston office in particular – we are blessed to have such comfort so close by.” Alison adds that Eve is “a lovely calm and caring individual who gives and gives to all of us.”

Another colleague, Anna Javed of SPO Partnerships, says that over the years she has known Eve work “with many men and women with multiple and complex needs and without fail she has given such thought to their needs and unfaltering attention to them as a person. She has always approached every situation without judgement or criticism and treated people with warmth and respect. She has often been the most stable presence in her clients lives and the challenges when needed come from a place of care and support; recognising the impact of trauma but able to hold people to account and challenge in a supportive and enabling way.”

Pete Johnrose is also a Probation Officer and colleague at the Preston office, and notes Eve’s “desire to take on the cause of those who have been disenfranchised, unjustly treated or fallen on hard times has remained undiminished – be that services users, colleagues or NAPO members. An important part of taking on whatever cause is it not on a basis of blind idealism but grounded in the realism of managing expectations. This reduces the chances of the individual feeling further disenfranchised and enables them to take some control in whatever they are trying to address. Eve is always there for support, guidance and advice.”

“When it comes to learning how to work with people,” he adds, “Eve is truly inspirational, unfaltering and totally committed to the ethos of probation, social work and bringing out the best in everyone she meets.”

Andrea Bennett, Regional Probation Director at NPS North West, thinks that what set Eve’s nomination apart “is the genuine warmth, affection and respect in which Eve is held by all (including me).” Andrea adds that “There are almost too many examples of when she has gone the extra mile or gone above and beyond to try to draw one out from the endless list. Eve is truly an example of someone who has given a lifetime of commitment to the Probation Service.”

Eve, as one might expect from the above, is deeply insightful about both her practice of, and approach to, probation work, and her lifetime of experience is worth quoting at length – not least for anyone working or thinking of working in probation:

“As I see it I am doing what I ought to do, work in a way that demonstrates my values and the values of the Probation Service I joined in 1982. [When I started] I was completely bowled over by the amazing staff I met at Hull Probation Office where I took up my first student placement. I work on the basis that we need to treat clients with respect. That doesn’t mean we admire all that they have done in life but we act on the basis that there are reasons why people behave as they do – blaming people for actions is not very productive – and the majority of people want to live lives where they can feel safe and valued. Most people do not care to work with others whom they perceive to be patronising, judging them and/or fault-finding.

“We do hear and see things as Probation staff that disgust or appal but if we want people to move on to live better, less harmful lives then we have to see people as a whole, not just the offence; where feasible, get beneath the behaviour (not ignore it) to understand if possible what it is about, the value and purpose of it to the client and integrate that with where that client wants to be as a person in the future and how to get there. If we want Probation clients to treat their family and fellow citizens with respect then we as staff supervising them, need to demonstrate that in how we treat them; we recognise the capacity to harm and also the capacity to move away from further harming. It also means discussing boundaries, we all have them and know how we dislike others’ attempts to breach them. I see my role in Probation is to address those breaches and to try and help people steer away from further similar behaviour.

“If a person’s behaviour harms people and if society values people, society needs to find ways of unravelling that purpose and helping re-channel that energy. What has taken years to develop isn’t going to dissolve over-night so one has to be patient and tempered. You have to withstand set-backs, client lapses, rejection. It’s a joint enterprise but the engine is the client. If their energy or will can’t be engaged, it’s a very slow process but still worthwhile. I’ve kept true to this approach of respect and looking for ways to connect because I have found it works; it engages most clients, works at a pace they can manage and keeps the majority out of re-offending. That sounds very simplistic but it requires considerable patience, willingness to keep fresh in thinking, attention to detail and adaptability. You can’t work this way on your own, you need good support from colleagues whether in Probation or linked agencies to share ideas, check out assumptions and access resources so you also need to be an adept advocate and team worker.”

Eve concludes with a personal recollection – and a vivid description of how she’s found her career:

“I hated it when as a child and young person I experienced personally or saw others, being ‘labelled’ or ‘written off’ so yes, I have a passion for challenging labels and negativity and I have found in Probation an amazing albeit demanding space in which to do this… It’s a career I have found fascinating, infuriating, wearying and stimulating but overall, incredibly worthwhile in seeing the majority of clients lighten up, move on, have families, handle lurch and sway to regain equilibrium and… stay out of trouble!”

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