Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2020-21: Gayner Holness is a member of the Offender Management Unit at HMP Bronzefield and is Commended for her remarkable Family Engagement work. In addition to that very impressive role, she is also an Offender Supervisor. Her background, working for a charitable organisation supporting vulnerable women, and as a volunteer supporting victims of domestic violence in custody suites in London, clearly informs the empathetic excellence she brings to all she does.
Gayner’s initial nominator and HMP Bronzefield’s Offender Management Unit Team Leader Emma Charalambous, offers a powerful portrait of Gayner’s work and its impact. Gayner leads the way in organising and facilitating Family Days at Bronzefield, and she makes them responsive to the diverse needs of both the women and their families. The sheer scale of her efforts is quite something, too.
“Gayner works tirelessly to ensure over 100 children have a magical time with their parents at our Christmas party. Impressively, she organises entertainment, costumes, refreshments, and individual presents not only for the children but also for the residents attending, all of which she hand-wraps herself. Gayner gives her free time to be there on the day ensuring all volunteers know what they need to be doing to monitor and safeguard the event.” It is, says, Emma, “an astounding event which promotes all the values of the prison service. The children see their mums and get to spend quality time with their mothers who will sadly be absent on Christmas day.” As if that weren’t enough, adds Emma, “Gayner then does this all over again for a second time in the afternoon for staff at Bronzefield and their children.”
The role of central coordinator of Bronzefield’s children and families’ workstream in a female establishment “is a colossal task”, adds Emma, “yet Gayner takes it all in her stride.” Furthermore, “Gayner plays a key role in developing and delivering our Family Engagement strategy and this included her creating our dedicated and private ‘Family Room’ in the Visits Hall. This is an opportunity for residents to spend longer periods with family members, and a safe environment for final contact visits to take place before adoption proceedings.
Emma notes that “Gayner put so much thought into its furnishings and decoration, and managed to set up an official opening by Lord Farmer. (See Lord Farmer’s 2019 review of The Importance of Strengthening Female Offenders’ Family and other Relationships to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime). Implementing his recommendations through strategy work, Gayner “is the driving force behind delivering such a high standard of family engagement work in our establishment and arguably across the entire female estate.”
Emma calls Gayner “extremely passionate about the work she does”, adding that “she doesn’t build up hopes, she is honest and provides wraparound support to guide those already hugely affected by trauma.” Emma concludes with a remarkable and moving testimony about Gayner by one resident:
“We met when I was in tears, and I’m sure I’ll be in tears when I leave (different tears). You have been such a positive influence in our lives, and this will help our future be amazing. We will miss you. Never forget [my child’s] first word was your name – I will never forget you.”
Francesca Waite, Bronzefield’s Communications Manager and Local Butler Trust Champion, shared some more powerful testimonials. These included Charlotte Durnin, Head of Rehabilitative Services at HMP & YOI Bronzefield, who says “Gayner is a great asset to our team and to the residents she supports. Her care and commitment is underpinned by her unparalleled creativity and work ethic and that makes for an incredible individual able to really make a difference to the lives of both residents and their families. Gayner is outward looking and her focus on hope and the future inspires residents to really work hard to develop themselves. She is an absolute credit to this team and to HMPPS more widely.”
Another resident wrote of Gayner: “Thank you so much for all your help and support!!! Everything happened so quickly…I am forever grateful. I am so happy to be with my children. Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” and another woman said, “Thank you Gayner for all the support you have given me in regard to the visit with my son. Your kindness means so much. You are a very supportive person. I know I have been a pain at times, but I miss my son so much. Thank you.”
Gayner coordinated the opening of Bronzefield’s new family room, and got Lord Farmer to ‘cut the ribbon’. The Justice Minister at the time, Edward Argar, said of the opening that “building and sustaining family ties is not only a vital part of successful rehabilitation but it plays an important role in improving the life chances of the next generation. I am delighted to see initiatives like Bright Spaces [the name of the family room] helping women in custody maintain their family relationships.”
Ian Whiteside, Bronzefield’s Director, praised Gayner’s “passion for ensuring the women in the care of Bronzefield and their children are given the best opportunities the prison can offer.” He noted that her “informed practice understands intergenerational crime and that sadly many prisoners’ children may become offenders themselves,” adding that she “is determined to help prevent this wherever possible and understands that protecting the maternal bond between the resident and their children is a significant protective factor in most cases.” He concluded with the observation that “it is not uncommon to see her in fancy dress to personally support the family day events!”
Gayner’s passion for her work comes across strongly in her own words, where she explains that her caseload of 60 women usually includes “TACT, Restricted Status, women suffering from mental health issues as well as suffering from some form of disability.” She says “They all carry their own unique complexities,” but describes being able to offer some level of comfort to not only the children but the mothers, especially during Family Days and the Christmas Family Day “is nothing short of an amazing feeling.”
Gayner is a strong believer that “family ties are the golden thread” and notes that most he women in custody “have suffered some form of trauma”. She adds that “mothers who have never been away from their children are removed and this can be devastating, not just for the resident, but for those suffering a hidden sentence – the families of the resident including their children.” Her belief is that “by empowering the women and showing them that although they made a bad decision, they are not a bad person, we can give every single person the chance to grow and learn from their mistakes.”
“I am a massive advocate for treating women fairly in custody: some women in our care have a huge lack of trust in professionals and I want to develop trust by taking a non-judgmental, unbiased approached to help break down these barriers,” says Gayner. “I have seen that my commitment to this approach goes a long way to reduce re-offending and negative behaviour in custody.” She cites as a recent letter she received from a resident:
“Gayner is my assigned case worker and has helped me in many ways. I came to prison naïve and angry, I also had no remorse for my victim. Throughout my journey Gayner helped me realise my wrong doing and where I messed up. Gayner has always had my corner and allowed me to change my ways and my thought pattern. She has truly been a great impact in my life.”
Gayner concludes, “I love what I do” and adds a touching remark from her young daughter: “I have missed certain milestones with my daughter [yet] I am so grateful for my role and was so proud when my daughter said she wants to be like me when she grows up and work in a prison!”