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

GRAHAM DUNCAN (HMP Channings Wood)

GRAHAM DUNCAN (HMP Channings Wood)

AWARD WINNER 2021-22: Graham receives an Award as a “role model for prisoners and staff” in his work as a Supervisory Officer at HMP Channings Wood, as “an exemplar of compassion for others”, and in particular for his truly exceptional contribution to staff well-being in the prison, which is now widely recognised as best practice.
[This Award is supported by the Prison Officers Association.]

‘Well, it saved my life’

Graham’s initial nominator, Allan McGrattan, Head of Business Assurance, sums up a plethora of powerful testimonials for the “self-effacing” Graham: “an exemplar of compassion for others, dedicated to their support and wellbeing. The epitome of the very best of human nature for everyone who has benefitted from his transformational values.”

Graham’s own experience as a Supervisory Officer involved in a self-inflicted death made him think about a more agile and effective approach to the many stressors – especially serious incidents – Prison Officers may face. His work has also influenced regional and national best practice.

Graham began by making a case to his Governor, Huw Sullivan, who says:

“Graham’s work is valued by everyone he comes into contact with – and without doubt, he puts the wellbeing of others first. He established a team that is on call 24/7 which provides help in and outside of work. I cannot stress enough how valued his work is and consider him to be a role model for staff and prisoners. He is the epitome of a caring and supportive colleague.”

Graham himself set about getting further qualifications, too, including in Post Incident Care, as a Practitioner and Case Manager in Trauma Risk Management, in Mental Health Allies, and as a Mental Health First Aider – as well as to deliver “incident hot debriefs for immediate support” after serious incidents.

“The staff wellbeing team,” says Graham, “is now promoted as best practice within the South West and South Central regions of the Prison Service.” He adds that “the services we now offer are shared during national delivery of post incident care training.” (Another winner this year, Natalie Hill, has had a similar impact in the probation service).

Many prison-specific stressors are widely felt – but often hidden. So Graham created “a high-profile communications strategy through emails, leaflets, updates,” says Allan, “and most importantly by making contact with staff on a regular face-to-face basis.”

The value of such face-to-face contact was underlined when the COVID pandemic dramatically reduced it. Graham, quick to see that this meant “uncertainty and anxiety”, developed a wellbeing team to contact isolating staff, encourage wellbeing exercises (and virtual ‘coffee mornings’), and keep up a flow of regular updates. As a result those shielding at home “felt included, valued and part of HMP Channings Wood”.

Graham made this all happen while facing his own personal COVID challenges. He was also managing a wing that housed prisoners with COVID – but his wife was shielding with serious health issues. They took an enormously difficult decision: to stay apart so Graham could keep working there. By any measure, this was remarkable behaviour. (Our recent booklet, Hidden Heroes in The Pandemic, has several more such examples. As we often point out, the Awards – including Graham’s – regularly highlight that those doing this work are often remarkable people made of special stuff indeed.)

On his wing, Graham’s “calm approach, effective leadership and safe practices” helped reduce anxiety among staff and prisoners. Meanwhile his COVID staff care team’s “personal touch” kept up the morale of staff and their families. COVID-19 HMPPS Wellbeing Lead, Guy, says “staff at Channings Wood can consider themselves very fortunate to have someone so dedicated to their wellbeing.” Or as one officer put it, “Graham does a cracking job.”

Graham has also widened his focus on staff care in response to the suicides of two young men that profoundly affected the local community. He helped establish a local Andy’s Man Club to support “men at their most vulnerable”, worked to end the stigma around mental health, and “encouraged men to talk to one another to reduce the ever-increasing number of male suicides in the UK.” (We recognised 2019 winner Ryan Brewster for his work bringing Andy’s Man Club into the prison estate).

Graham’s involvement with this group has helped many men in the community – including prison staff who feel more comfortable speaking about such issues in a non-work environment. But one example, in a testimonial from a former officer, is particularly powerful:

“Every day I was just putting the same mask on. Yes, I had problems but I just forgot about them and just got on with it. And then one day it was just enough and I went up to Dartmoor and tried to end it. Andy’s Man Club was the start of my voice and, well, it saved my life.”

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