Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
AWARD WINNER 2019-20: Kirsten was nominated for her work as a Probation Services Officer at Lawson House Approved Premises. Described by her manager as “an incomparable gem”, and by one of three service users who nominated her, as “bloody brilliant”, she is given an Award for her truly exceptional compassion, skill, and dedication.
[This Award is supported by Seetec Justice.]
Kirsten is a Band 2 Residential Worker, acting up as a Band 3 Probation Services Officer, at the Lawson House Approved Premises in the South West & South Central division of the National Probation Service. Although her nomination focuses on her work in helping achieve an Enabling Environment Award and developing an aftercare service, the plethora of heartfelt testimonials from colleagues and service users alike suggests a remarkable example of probation work at its very best.
Three service users initially nominated Kirsten and their words, as so often, have a heartfelt strength worth quoting in detail. Taken together, they also provide a real insight into the breadth and depth of the work undertaken in the probation service:
Andrew* wrote that:
“If it wasn’t for Kirsten and Lawson House Approved Premises I wouldn’t be here today. I would be six feet under. Even when I left Lawson House she still phones up to see if I am ok. She works hard for you. She is on your side. If you are prepared to put in the effort she is 100% behind you. She helped sort out doctor’s appointments, getting psychology appointments, otherwise I would be wasting months. I would have just been fobbed off. She got me an appointment the same day. She wasn’t even a key worker. She got me painting outside, I painted a mural outside. Kirsten and Steve said (to) ‘sum up Plymouth, put Plymouth on the wall’ and so I did. I like the mural, it’s good, something different. I’ve never done anything like that before. It was general support, if you have any problem she is very approachable. She will help you sort it out.
“At Christmas she didn’t need to but she invited me round for Christmas at the AP [Approved Premises] as she knew I would have been alone. She made sure everyone in the AP had a nice present. She didn’t have to do that. It was nice. They were all wrapped nicely. When I left she still does it, I still feel welcome to pop down any time. If I haven’t been there for a few weeks she calls me or arranges for other staff to call and check I am safe. She arranged for me to do the Minack ourse. She is kind, caring. You can tell it is not just a job, she genuinely cares about her job, about everyone in there. She tries her hardest for everyone. She sees the good in everyone. She doesn’t judge.”
Gareth* added that:
“Kirsten has shown me a level of respect that I have never experienced in my life. She has mentored me through some extremely difficult times, emotional problems and helped me to understand and deal with emotional problems I have had since very early childhood. She has helped me to deal with health care professionals and even taken time out of her own personal time (on her birthday) to attend the doctor’s surgery with me in order to help me communicate effectively with the doctor. I am now receiving effective treatment for a problem I have been struggling with for years, she has worked extremely hard to get me through this very difficult period of my life.
“She has managed to secure for me suitable accommodation with ongoing support without which I would certainly have returned to my old ways of drug abuse re-offending and creating victims, it is without doubt thanks to Kirsten that today I find myself in secure accommodation, receiving treatment for my drug problem, getting help from a doctor for an ongoing back injury, in full receipt of appropriate benefits, training opportunities for my future getting financial help from various different charities and looking forward with a very positive view of the future, there really is no way I could thank Kirsten enough for what she has done for me, she really did come into my life and change every aspect of it for the better, not only do I quite possibly owe my life to her but there are countless people in the world that will now not become my victims.”
And finally, Bryn* had a few things to add:
As Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Approved Premises (SWSC Division) Mark Benden notes, these words convey that “thanks to her input, they feel valued for who they are; supported to find their place in society; and cared for, irrespective of what they have done. These men are vulnerable; collectively they have a history of substance misuse, mental health problems, childhood trauma, hearing and sight-impairment alongside long-term health conditions. One had his first experience of prison was when he was just 14 years old.”
Mark added that “Kirsten spends so much time making phone calls and arrangements for everyone she works with, all with an encouraging smile and ‘can do’ approach. Not only does she start a process, but she chases each and every referral to ensure that all receive the best and most rapid access to the services that they need.”
Kirsten is described, in the words of her line manager, Senior Probation Officer Gary Bishop, as:
“incomparable – a dynamic, conscientious and resourceful gem who led her team to achieve the Enabling Environments (EE) Award. She aims high for people and will hold them until they are able to fly.”
He continues: “Her compassion towards all residents means that she is highly thought of by colleagues and residents alike. Kirsten has a level of energy that engages men to want to work alongside her. Her high level of empathy and genuine desire to support all is recognised by all.” He adds that “Kirsten is a woman of strength, of determination who is not afraid to say it how it is, to hold service users, colleagues or managers to account. She sets the vision, makes it happen and is valued and respected for what she does. Kirsten is the gift that keeps on giving, she is resilient and passionate.” He adds, eloquently, that:
“Although there for the long haul she realises that it is only precious moments that we have and that moment we have in someone’s life can make it or break it for them. If they need a plethora of moments she will be there, providing it for them.”
Many, many colleagues added their own testimony. Tony Hanning, a residential worker at SWSC Rising Star, said “Above all she’s just the best type of person. Genuine, empathetic, caring, hardworking, resilient and trustworthy”. Another colleague added “I have been told by one offender that she ‘makes the difference and is a pocket rocket as she always has so much energy and nothing it too much for her.’” Another remarked that “she is often the first to know when something is wrong and get support in time to prevent the person self-destructing or re-offending.” Chloe Blake, a Probation Officer and colleague, added that “She has the kindest heart but also is able to maintain a professional and boundaried approach”, while Paul* said “She’s bloody brilliant, always goes the extra mile. She is fantastic at what she is doing, she is doing a great job. She mentors me.”
Angela Cossins, Divisional Director, concurred with the powerful testimony, and said “there are very few staff who embody “above and beyond” in quite the way that Kirsten does!”
Kirsten describes joining the probation service in 2002 as “a fantastic choice – I always look forward to going into work.” The Butler Trust nomination, she says, “is lovely. I genuinely feel touched, it makes me feel that I am fulfilling my ambition of helping others, of having people experience my impact in their life as one of kindness.”
As the Enabling Environment lead, she describes working with her team to “help make the place kinder, a place of normality where they can have cheese and crackers, a DVD night. These activities encourage residents to communicate and come together as well as give staff an opportunity to get alongside residents and chat openly.”
Talking about the aftercare service for ex-residents and provided by all staff, she adds:
“It is important that they know we have not given up, we still believe in them and are there if they need us. For many this is something they have never experienced & it helps them in their rehabilitation, for me it’s not punishment that makes the difference – but acts of kindness & humanity.”
Kirsten concludes with a moving anecdote: “One of the service users who nominated me came to the AP today – 12 months after his placement ended. He lost his job because people found out about his offence.” She says,
“He came back for support, direction and a friendly face with a team of staff who showed him kindness instead of hatred. For me that means the world. That is what this job is. He would have previously tried to kill himself in dealing with such a difficult life challenge but today he came back for a kind face, an open door and reassurance that he can still move forward, that life is still for living.”
* Names have been anonymised.
With thanks to South West & South Central National Probation Service, especially initial nominators Andrew, Gareth and Bryn, initial nomination supporter and Senior Probation Officer Lucy Van-Waterschoot, Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Approved Premises (SWSC Division) Mark Benden, other service users including C, ‘Mr M’, ‘Mr E’, ‘Mr W’, ‘Mr C’, Tony and Andy, and colleagues including Probation Officer Annie Mellors, residential worker at SWSC Rising Star Tony Hanning, Senior Probation Officer Gary Bishop, Probation Officer Chloe Blake, Andrea, Paul, and SWSC Probation Divisional Director Angela Cossins, for their contributions.