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COMMENDEE 2021-22: OSG Gary’s Commendation is for the truly exceptional support he provided to staff and their families during the pandemic, including when two of his colleagues sadly died, in his voluntary role as Joint Care Team Leader at HMP Lewes.

He is present at all the right moments’

When his peers at HMP Lewes elected Gary Offen as Joint Care Team Leader, they made an excellent choice. He had spent a decade working at the prison, so knew what they were getting. But what they didn’t know – what no one knew – was that barely six months after joining the Staff Care Team, a global pandemic would arrive along with the extremely distressing and sudden deaths of two colleagues and much else beside. The many accolades from his colleagues gratefully describe how Gary met theses challenge. He not only “juggled a massive workload” while coping with his own “massive ups and downs” – including the birth of a son, health issues and family bereavement – but did so with “kindness, genuine care” and “a quiet grace”.

The Governor of HMP Lewes, Hannah Lane, calls Gary:

“one of the most committed, caring and selfless individuals I have worked with in more than twenty years in HMPPS. He supported me personally last year when he accompanied me in informing multiple staff members individually about the tragic death of their colleague. He makes himself available to staff throughout evenings and weekends via mobile phone. Many, many staff members have advised me that Gary has provided them with outstanding support during their personal difficulties. He really is quite exceptional.”

Testimonials describe his “continuous support”, whether for those who were shielding, visiting a colleague with mental health issues at home in his lunch hour and after work, or in his daily contacts with the wife and family of a staff member seriously ill with COVID 19 and in an induced coma.

This is the kind of help and assistance that makes people feel they have not been forgotten and, says Rory Laker, the other Joint Care Team Leader, and initial nominator for Gary, “this is the level of support that he offers all colleagues and their families where needed.”

Gary has also “worked tirelessly” with other colleagues and management”, says Rory, to create a staff garden – somewhere offering a quiet place to reflect and remember lost colleagues – as well as a Care Team room in which to privately support and comfort staff. “He even came in with another colleague in their own time to paint it to make sure it was a welcoming environment.” Rory concludes by saying:

“I have barely scratched the surface with what I could write about Gary, I could write pages about the amazing work he does and the positive effect he has on those he supports and works with.”

Kerry Winter, Head of Business Assurance at Lewes, gave a number of often personal examples of Gary’s support, including to her and a member of her team. She went on to praise his “emotional intelligence in ‘doing the right thing’”, and his gift for being “present at all the right moments.” She added that “I know that his hard work and caring nature have gone a long way into making things a little less traumatic for us staff through this horrible time.”

Gary says he is “deeply passionate” about a role he finds “so rewarding”, and that he’s “lost count how many staff myself and the team have supported during this time, from signposting, to checking on, caring for and just going for walks to talk.” He point out, too, that he is “so lucky to have amazing family and friends’ support. I feel this support has enabled me to continue to help and assist my friends and colleagues at HMP Lewes. It is a source of great pride that I am trusted and respected by these people, for whom I have a huge amount of respect.”

Like so many of our winners, he concludes self-effacingly: “I consider myself just a normal person, doing my job to the best of my ability and trying to help others where I can along the way.” His colleagues would respectfully disagree, recognising that Gary has been an exceptional person in extremely difficult circumstances, and “the best of his ability” is very good indeed – and clearly much appreciated.

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