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AWARD WINNER 2017-18: Jackie is the Regimes and Equality & Diversity Manager at Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre. She receives her Award for being ‘a shining light’ in a very challenging environment, and she is renowned among both staff and detainees for her ‘hands-on’ approach in the care and support she provides. [This Award is supported by Working Links.]

Jackie Smart is clearly something of a phenomenon at the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre, where she works as a Regimes and Equality & Diversity Manager. Dozens of testimonials supporting her nomination – equally heartfelt by staff and detainees – suggest that, as one put it, “Jackie is one in a million”. Her commitment to both her staff and detainees, in a particularly difficult environment, shines out – and is clearly deeply appreciated.

Initial nominator Hannah Shires, Head of Learning Skills & Regimes at Heathrow IRC, describes Jackie as “an outstanding individual who consistently shows exceptional dedication and compassion…anticipating the minor problems before they become major ones.” But strong leadership and sound management “are only part of what Jackie brings”, says Hannah, praising in particular Jackie’s passion about “helping some of the detainees who are most vulnerable within the centre”. She has put forward many initiatives for improvements to help support disabled detainees, and those with depression, sleep problems, and drug or alcohol dependency. As Hannah notes:

“Initiatives can be frustratingly hard to convert into reality but Jackie does not take no for an answer. Her determination and tenacity to find a way forward makes it happen and she will find a way, whether it be by creating an art project to engage and involve a detainee who is withdrawn and self-harming or rolling up her sleeves and redecorating the proposed well-being room herself to move the project on.”

This “burning passion to make things better for those around her” might involve “baking a cake for her team to pick them up, staying with a detainee as he is throwing up from Spice, or bringing in spare batteries she has for a detainee’s hearing aid.” In short, says Hannah, “she makes Heathrow IRC a better place for the staff and the detainees and is a shining light in a challenging and difficult environment.”

Local Butler Trust Champion, Jamie Eastham, Duty Shift Manager at Heathrow IRC, reinforces Hannah, noting that “Jackie is compassionate, empathic, caring and approachable”, while her colleague Maggie Cockings of HIS Church Charity calls her “totally trustworthy, reliable and conscientious, her enthusiasm and dedication is second to none. I consider her one of the most competent and efficient people to have had the pleasure to work with. She is an absolute star!”

As Paul Morrison, Heathrow IRC’s Centre Manager, points out, “Detainees held in an Immigration Removal Centre do not usually know when they will be deported or released (unlike serving prisoners) and so anxiety and frustration levels are usually high in detention.” The impact on staff can be considerable, and Jackie’s commitment to her people is clearly outstanding – it could almost be a credo for any manager:

“My team of staff, I feel, are my most valuable asset: invest in them, engage them, make them feel supported, and they will deliver great things without even realizing. I like to work leading from the front, taking on the mundane tasks myself so they can be left to really enhance what we deliver. I find when their emotional needs are met the detainees needs are better met, and our working environment is less stressful and we deliver! I like checking with staff daily how things are going in and out of work and making sure they feel valued and included, even if off sick.”

Half a dozen lengthy and heartfelt testimonials by her staff reinforce the sense that Jackie ‘walks the talk.’ IT Tutor Mahmood Deen, among a long list of her attributes, wrote:

“You are never afraid to get your hands dirty. You lead from the front and always take the tedious tasks upon yourself. This is the reason we ALL jump in to help you out in any way possible, no matter how mundane the task is.”

Art Tutor Barbara Egan says that people who are “extremely hard-working, reliable and who deliver” are in short supply in many working environments, “and to have them as your line manager is like winning the lottery.” English & Vocational Tutor and Co-ordinator Aaron Barnes says, “’Professional’ is a wholly insufficient adjective to describe her…just knowing she is around makes us feel safer and more valued.” Another colleague, Sylvie Treullet, calls Jackie “the best manager I have had the pleasure of working with in my 32 years of teaching…‘Simply the Best.’”

As so often, some of the most moving testimonials come from detainees themselves: one detainee said, “Ah Jackie, she is lovely. She is friendly, helpful, and liked by all detainees. Even before I met her, everyone was saying go straight to Jackie, she will help you,” while another said:

“Jackie has her own brand of management, what I call a ‘doing-manager’. I could write a whole book about the things she has helped me with, and helped others with.”

In addition, a dozen detainees signed their name to a long paean to ‘angels’ and the difference they make, concluding: “To Jackie Smart, one of the Angels that make this place bearable.”

As Jackie put it, in a piece of good advice we could all take note of, “If you can improve someone’s day, even if only one person for a short time, then I feel that’s my job well done.”

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