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

GARETH KEY (National Probation Service, North East)

GARETH KEY (National Probation Service, North East)

COMMENDEE 2017-18: Gareth is a Probation Officer for the National Probation Service, North East division, and receives a Commendation for his deep sense of vocation, and his ability to transform the attitudes of those with whom he works.

Gareth Key is a Probation Officer working in the Gateshead Local Delivery Unit of the National Probation Service’s North East Division. Although his colleagues were clearly aware of his outstanding gifts, a remarkable and unsolicited letter brought him to wider attention: a father, fulfilling a son’s dying wish, wrote to senior probation officials to explain how, after a highly problematic relationship with probation lasting years on both their parts, Gareth – “a diamond” – had transformed their attitudes.

The father’s letter forms the spine of Gareth’s nomination, and is worth quoting at some length:

“I view Gareth Key as unique, as both me and my son have never met a more caring person. He really cares about his clients and what he can do for them. That is the mark of a good Probation Officer. I am of the opinion that Gareth Key takes his job as a vocation and not just as a job. He truly cares about his work and wants to help people along life’s path and make positive changes. He is a beacon. My son had asked me to write to the National Probation Service to let them know how thankful he was for all of Gareth Key’s help. He worked to help my son, assisting him in starting to make changes in his life. I previously had contempt for the service, but Gareth Key changed my perception when I saw the impact he had upon my son…I strongly believe that a Probation Officer can help make or break a person by the attitudes they have and how they view the person they are supervising.”

Butler Trust Local Champion and NPS North East Division Business Manager Darran Cook gives some further background. “Out of the blue we received a heartfelt and lengthy letter from an offender’s father commending the work Gareth had completed with his son. The letter, written soon after the offender had sadly deceased, remarked on the personal skills, expertise, value base, and commitment Gareth had demonstrated in working with this service user. It also indicated the contribution Gareth’s work with this offender had made to reducing reoffending, as well as improving public confidence.”

As Darran reports, the son had been “a very challenging, heavily convicted and aggressive offender who had never successfully completed a period of probation supervision prior to this licence.” Gareth’s motivational skills and supportive approach, “along with a lot of time, patience, guidance and dedication” led to the son getting through his licence with no re-offending and without any enforcement.

The dramatic shift in attitude by both father and son suggests the powerful way one dedicated individual can transform attitudes. Gareth is clearly a remarkable officer, being described by James Faill, an admin officer and colleague, as “our everyday hero.”

Other colleagues are also fulsome in their praise. Probation Officer Sarah Gettings calls Gareth “inspirational”, while another, Lynn Crowther, calls him “the most supportive colleague any team could wish for”, adding an aside that “he is screamingly funny.”

Michael Spurr, CEO of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, says:

“Gareth represents everything that is good about probation. He is caring and compassionate and genuinely believes that people can change. He is truly inspirational and he is a role model for others.”

At the 2017 Probation Champion Awards, Gareth won the ‘Changing Lives’ category. Gareth himself is typically modest, saying, “although I felt as though I had not done anything different to any of my colleagues, or anything different to the way I work with people, it touched me that his father went out of his way to let the National Probation Service know about how he felt I’d made a difference to his son’s life.”

One of Gareth’s interventions with the son who sparked this nomination was to CABIS – Complex Acquired Brain Injury Service – and Gareth hopes to explore this area further, via the Youth Offending Service. Not least, as he points out, because statistically “there is a greater instance of young offenders who have been affected by brain injuries.”

A remark by Darran points to the heart of the difference one individual can make: “it’s not just ‘what’ we do, but ‘how’ we do it that can make a huge difference.”

Top of the page