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JOHN WOOLHAM (HMP Liverpool)

JOHN WOOLHAM (HMP Liverpool)

COMMENDEE 2019-20: John is a Custodial Manager at HMP Liverpool. He receives a Commendation for his pivotal contribution to the widely-praised transformation of living and working conditions throughout the establishment.

John is a Custodial Manager at HMP Liverpool. He receives a Commendation for his influential role in helping dramatically transform Liverpool’s environment in response to a critical inspection. John has displayed real leadership qualities, both internally and externally, and then further stretched himself to in turn carry the good news about changes at Liverpool to significant audiences.

Initial nominator, Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Business Assurance at Liverpool, Clare Stanway, explains the context to John’s work: “Following a poor HMIP Inspection in September 2017 HMP Liverpool had a significant mountain to climb. Liverpool needed to improve facilities and outcomes for offenders and improve basic processes, structures and procedures across all areas of the prison… it was vital to gain the support of staff, improve the moral of staff who felt the results keenly and also to win back the trust and confidence of offenders, their families and the public in general. To enable this, it was important to identify the right people to tackle some very difficult issues and conditions. At the heart of this is was important to rebuild the trust of everyone involved in this journey. John was appointed by the Governor to lead on the internal projects to improve decency and to work with our partners to create a safer, cleaner environment for all.”

Clare says John is “a well-respected, focused member of staff who rose to this challenge. His positive and caring approach in how he approaches his work has been instrumental in driving improvements at HMP Liverpool. Due to his personal drive and determination HMP Liverpool today is a much cleaner and more welcoming environment, and offender accommodation and residential living areas are significantly improved and are now a far cry from the squalid cells reported in the media at the time.”

Clare adds that John’s “personal drive and determination” has been “instrumental” in improving the accommodation and his team has significantly improved cleanliness and standards across all wings. One surprising outcome of John’s men working with the Transformation team (alongside [partner agency] Amey technicians and with support from [social enterprise] NOVUS) has been “to secure employment upon release for one of the men with an external company Bagnalls who had been working alongside us as part of the ongoing refurbishment work.” Clare adds that:

“This was a milestone moment at Liverpool as this had never happened before. Bagnalls have now become an employer who actively employs men after release.”

Clare goes on to explain that, “as part of our aim to rebuild trust both inside and outside the prison, communication has been one of the important tools available to us. John explored the idea of introducing Twitter to Liverpool and set up the account. The impact of this cannot be underestimated. The HMP Liverpool Twitter account has enabled us to publish good news stories, generated interest from both the Criminal Justice community and the wider public at large. This has been a vital tool in bringing ‘the outside’ in to Liverpool and enabled us to demonstrate tangible improvements to the environment, and secure ‘buy in’ from all areas of the community who have been able to track our progress. It has gone a long way in improving the public’s perception of the work of the prison and allowing everyone to follow our journey of improvement.”

In response to core problems around the fabric, living conditions, and cleanliness, John designed and set up a CRED – ‘Clean, Rehabilitative, Enabling and Decency’ – system to check progress. “This not only ensures all residents rooms are clean, painted, and furnished to the correct levels,” says Clare, “but also ensures that this is constantly monitored so that issues are addressed at the earliest opportunity. This is a simple yet effective system to allow the establishment to keep on top of the improvements made which is vital in managing an old Victorian prison.” She adds that “the changes John has been instrumental in driving have made a real difference to the environment that staff and residents live and work in. The impact of this cannot be underestimated.”

Clare thinks John “stands out from the crowd due to a calm, measured, and supportive approach that instils confidence in those that he deals with at all levels. His diligence and determination really do make a difference and he has the respect of his peers.”

John has also played a role in sharing news of the dramatic progress Liverpool has been making. He addressed the National Governors Forum, where he outlined how Twitter has been a useful tool for the establishment and to sell its benefits to other prisons – and share advice on how to manage the accounts effectively. One direct result of John’s work on Twitter was a number of offers of book donations from charities for the prison library – and on one occasion he drove to Newcastle to collect 2000 books.

John has also given presentations at employers’ forums to demonstrate “the benefit of employing our men on release.” He is also regularly called on to liaise with, and escort, high profile visitors to the prison, says Clare. “His drive, diligence and enthusiasm ensure these events go well and that Liverpool is always shown in its best light.” She adds that:

Colleague and NOVUS education manager Emma Worrall says “John’s enthusiasm and drive inspires others to jump on board and move Liverpool forward in a positive direction… He always maintains an open mind in relation to change and continues to embrace new ideas, allowing us the freedom – and supporting us – to do things differently.” R. Livingstone from Amey says “John has worked relentlessly…‘making it happen’ and unblocking the ‘Show Stoppers’”. Liverpool’s Governor, Pia Sinha, adds her own praise:

“You cannot walk anywhere in Liverpool without crediting the improvements either physical or systemic to John’s hard work, innovation and determination. Most of his ideas around improving and sustaining better living conditions have now been replicated across the prison estate. Liverpool was one of the first jails to be brave enough to use Twitter [and] is now successfully being used in so many more jails to good effect.

“So much of what was required in Liverpool has been about building hope, trust and belief – I would not have been able to do this without John. His commitment and sense of responsibility towards this jail is humbling. John has made lasting changes within Liverpool and his ideas have helped benefit the service at large.”

John himself provides the kind of detail that highlights quite how much had to be done – and what has been achieved in a remarkably short period: “We needed to think differently to enable the work to get done. Nearly every window was broken, every cell and landing needed preparing and painting, the whole prison was in need of a deep clean and there were cockroaches in the accommodation. The outside areas, too, were criticised for being dirty with overflowing bins that were vermin infested, and it was alleged that we were housing men in squalor. We acknowledged we were in a desperate position with some home truths we had to accept.”

He explains that he developed “a Refresh Team, a team of men who, to this day, work closely with our staff to carry out small repairs. This on its own has proven to be one of our most valuable assets and they take great pride in their work. They replace toilets seats, they replace broken windows with a temporary model that they themselves designed to give protection from the elements, and they have changed carpets, and recycled and assembled furniture.” He also developed “a specialised Safe and Decent painting team who work closely with our facilities management tradesmen and have so far painted each and every one of our 710 cells at least once. There is now a continual programme progressing throughout the prison addressing graffiti and damages to prison property.” He adds that:

“there is a sense of calm at Liverpool that has not been felt for a long time. There is a level of respect between our men and our staff, our inside and outside areas are clean and we welcome any visitor at any time to show them around with pride.”

John reports an Orderly telling a visitor that told the improvements made at Liverpool were like “going from the pits to the Ritz”. He also recalls the feedback meeting, with HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke, when his Inspectorate told him that “they could not move anywhere within the prison without one or a number of our residents telling them how they have contributed to our recovery. Our men wanted to show them the improved conditions in which they now live.” He recalls “one chap I was lucky enough to hear” telling the Inspectorate “that he was here at Liverpool during the inspection of 2017 and the place was dark, cold and grim, but after being transferred a few times within the region he now considers Liverpool to be the best prison he has ever been to.”

He also cites the Chief Inspector’s closing comments, when he said that:

“Never, at least in my tenure as Chief Inspector, have I seen a turnaround like yours… I am not aware of any establishment, particularly a core local, moving from Level 1 for Respect, to Level 4 – well done.”

Finally, John says that “there are many proud moments that I could speak of, particularly where two of our men after enrolling onto our CRED scheme were released into full time employment as a direct result of the systems, qualifications and resources I had enabled them to participate in. This employment was offered after they had worked directly with one of our contractors who had helped with their employability by improving their key skills needed for the work, but also with their interpersonal skills and work ethic.”

Clearly John – and HMP Liverpool – have much to be proud of.

 

With thanks to HMP Liverpool, especially initial nominator, Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Business Assurance Clare Stanway, colleagues at partner agencies Amey and NOVUS, and to Liverpool Governor Pia Sinha, for their contributions.

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