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Henry Cormack and William Cormack

COMMENDEES 2022-23: Described as “true unsung heroes”, brothers Henry and William are granted a Commendation for their “tireless” contribution, over many years, as Specialist Instructors at HMP Bullingdon, teaching vocational skills to the prisoners, while improving the environment for all.

The initial nominator for the two Cormack brothers, Henry and Will, is Jo Dable, who has been their Line Manager for several years, and worked with them for many years before. They both joined the service in 2000 and, says Jo, ‘have become familiar faces around Bullingdon and are known by all.’ Jo adds that they ‘are inseparable ‘and that it is ‘impossible to describe the work of one without the other’ because ‘they work as a team and are true unsung heroes, working in all weathers and often non-stop in the summer.’

Predominantly managing and training a work party of 30 MCOSO (Men Convicted of Sexual Offences) prisoners, they maintain Bullingdon’s extensive grounds, says Jo, ‘both inside and outside the prison walls’ and do so to a very high level while giving the prisoners excellent training that means the men can get City & Guild qualifications in subjects like mowing and strimming alongside more general knowledge about grounds maintenance. There is a large greenhouse, and two polytunnels, where they instruct the prisoners to grow fruit and vegetables, cultivate and pot seedlings, alongside a number of other activities (including protecting nesting birds!)

Using a donation from the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire, Will and Henry have planted fruiting trees, creating small orchards in the grounds as well as wildflower seeds to encourage the insect and bird population and improve views of nature for all prisoners. Last Spring, they created a Jubilee Garden for staff to commemorate Her Late Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, and trees were also planted to add to The Queen’s Green Canopy, creating ‘a peaceful garden for staff to enjoy time outdoors in beautiful surroundings.’

During the pandemic Will and Henry ‘were keen to maintain their prisoner work party as long as possible’, says Jo, ‘fully understanding the benefits to their health and wellbeing when the regime was so restricted.’ But when infection levels ‘were at their worst’ the work party closed for a short time, so ‘Will and Henry downed tools and supported their colleagues in other essential work parties’.

Will and Henry have also been involved with the charity Standing with Giants who create installations commemorating those who gave their lives in conflict. For this, Will and Henry and the work party paint soldier silhouettes. ‘The prisoners took real pride in completing this work to a very high standard’, knowing that the silhouettes would be used in public displays – for example in Blenheim Palace – as well as at HMP Bullingdon’s own Remembrance Service outside the prison. ‘Those who took part were visibly moved by the evocative display’, notes Jo. Furthermore, this work has continued with an installation for Sapper Hill in the Falkland Islands to commemorate 40 years since the beginning of the conflict. Will and Henry are also active supporters of Armed Forces Day each year.

The Cormack brothers also take part in the RSBP Big Bird Watch each year, and recently some Pied Wagtails built a nest in one of the polytunnels, successfully hatching and fledging four chicks. Will and Henry made sure the prisoners knew to leave the birds in peace – ‘the nest was built on a table full of seedlings!’ – and the prisoners became as protective of the nest as the staff. Jo concludes by calling both Will and Henry ‘an absolute pleasure to work with’ and saying their ‘enthusiasm and commitment is commendable.’

Butler Trust Local Champion Kathryn Smith is also People Hub Manager at HMP Bullingdon, and shared some further testimonials. Governor Craig Chinn, Head of Business Assurance, wanted to praise them for their excellent work on the Remembrance Service:

‘They have been working for months preparing all the soldiers and wreaths that were seen outside the prison this week and they created an impressive and atmospheric display. They have worked alongside the charity Standing with Giants and have got their prisoners involved in this work too. It has given the men a sense of pride to be part of this, and the display in the Chapel Garden, which is also lovely, has been done so prisoners can see it too when on the lower walkway.’

Another Governor, Vanda Tank, Head of SSCU and Healthcare Delivery, praised their ‘tireless’ work around the grounds and noted how it boosts the spirits of staff and prisoners alike. OM Administrator Roberta Ritter says the prison surroundings, both indoors and outdoors at the front gate, ‘look lovely’, adding that ‘the roses and new flower baskets arranged can put a smile in my face every time I come in.’

Craig Perry of the Resettlement Team, and Veterans Support Lead, in turn praised the brothers for their ‘professionalism and commitment through and through’, noting that both their major yearly events ‘would not be possible without their help and support.’ Meanwhile Wendy Brennan, Care Team member and Officer Apprenticeship Coach, reports the ‘really positive feedback from staff using the new quiet room and Jubilee Garden’ who wanted to pass on their thanks to all those involved in creating it. I regularly see staff using the garden over lunch, having a coffee, chatting with friends and enjoying the sunshine. It is a great space.’

Kathryn also explains that when Standing with Giants got in touch, Will ‘showed great enthusiasm’ as he was already making ‘stand up’ soldiers and individual poppies using plywood. ‘He wanted to make the display bigger and better than the previous year which was possible as we were able to use the additional figures from the charity, ‘creating a magnificent and moving scene.’

Will and Henry also run a woodwork workshop with prisoners, she adds, making birdboxes, planters and benches to order – and paid for by staff – out of scrap wood and pallets. ‘This allows the prisoners to be creative and builds a sense of self-worth and pride, which is particularly important for our MCOSO population.’ She adds that although Will and Henry ‘have always worked as a team’, they have their own individual strengths too. She notes that ‘Henry is happiest when he is working hands-on, in the grounds, in all weathers, teaching the men the practical skills and getting his hands dirty (literally),’ while Will ‘has a particular eye for detail which he uses when assessing the men’s work for the qualification and ensuring Health and Safety standards are maintained.’ She then shares some further words from the prisoners the brothers work with:

‘William and Henry have taught me a lot and have always helped me when I needed it and helped me be more part of the team by giving me responsibility and making me one of the team leaders and I feel that is what I need to boost my confidence.’ (Mr B)

‘Will has been a very good tutor not just helping me with knowledge of plants but also helping me mentally when I got down. He took me to one side & we chatted which helped a lot.” (Mr M)

‘Will and Henry do a great job in seeing potential in those that don’t have confidence in themselves.’ (Mr L)

HMP Bullingdon’s Governing Governor, Laura Sapwell, calls Will and Henry ‘the perfect team’ who ‘make a huge difference’ to prison life at Bullingdon, adding:

‘This is not a project, it’s two people who have dedicated years of their working lives to Bullingdon. They are inseparable, and their achievements are completely intertwined and it’s fair to say that they both support and rely on each other in equal measure. They supervise a work party, teach prisoners new skills leading to qualifications, support some of our most vulnerable prisoners with meaningful activity and purpose, keep our prison grounds and gardens tidy and beautiful, providing views of nature and lovely settings for staff to enjoy and take time out, and support local charities and wildlife groups! Their work stands out from others because of their enduring enthusiasm for gardening and horticulture, their no-fuss, just-quietly-get-on-with-it approach, and their public service to countless prisoners and colleagues over many years which is an example to us all.’

The brothers themselves recall one of their ‘memorable times’ being ‘when we entered The Windlesham Trophy for the first time in 2006 and won it, both staff and prisoners were proud of what they had achieved, then re-entered again in 2010 after building works had finished and achieved the runners-up spot only being beaten by half a point.’

As well as their achievements outlined above, they have also ‘donated house plants to staff offices and rest rooms to help with staff well-being’, adding that ‘our woodshop has supported events by making items such as wooden spoons for the Cook-off event, Gymnasium Cricket Tournament Trophies & Plaques, and ‘Hidden Heroes Day’ raffle prizes. They add:

‘We have had many letters from prisoners who have been released from custody and gone into land-based industries and thanked us for supporting them through their difficult times; if it was not for this activity and support, their time in prison would have been a lot worse… a lot of prisoner’s mental health issues have improved due to being out in the fresh air and completing horticultural tasks.’

They end on a positive note and, not untypically for Butler Trust winners, take the chance to thank others, noting they continue ‘to enjoy working for HMPPS not only through the good times but also difficult ones and believe by all working together we can achieve anything. “Well Done All”.’ They then thank their Line manager Jo not only for the nomination but for ‘the continued support she gives our area’, and go on to ‘also thank our SMT and work colleagues for their assistance.’