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COMMENDEE 2015-16: Lynda, Learning & Skills Manager at HMP Durham, is Commended for setting up the ‘Judge & Barista’ coffee shop, which is open to staff and the public, and provides jobs to local unemployed people, including former offenders.

Lynda ElliottLynda Elliott, Learning and Skills Activity Manager at HMP Durham, is Commended for her outstanding work in, among other achievements, creating the charmingly named ‘Judge & Barista’ coffee shop at the prison, in addition to her normal role in the prison. The shop, in the gate area, is open to staff and the general public, and is run by long term unemployed people, including former offenders.

Nominator Tony Brown, Head of Reducing Offending at the prison, praises Lynda’s “tireless effort, work and foresight” in developing this initiative, noting that her “enthusiasm, compassion and continued care for the new staff given jobs thorough this scheme has been quite remarkable and worthy of praise.”

Michelle McCarthy, North East Regional Learning and Skills Manager, agrees, describing how Lynda “also engaged staff through providing an opportunity to name the coffee shop through a voting system”, and adding that the “initial feedback from staff and partners has been overwhelming.”

One worker at the coffee shop, David*, had this to say: “Lynda has really achieved something here. I really love working here and having been given this opportunity that is really down to her. It’s a great environment…I’m totally amazed by it, a total credit to her.” He finishes “I’m really getting something from it for the first time in a long time, I’m really surprised and happy about this great opportunity.” Another worker, Charles*, adds “Lynda is a real diamond. She checks in on us and makes sure we’re supported. Her dedication is brilliant… we really enjoy the job as it’s a lovely place to work. Lynda has been an angel and we really appreciate this new start here.”

Tony Brown calls Lynda “a wonderful person who I respect immensely”. He calls her “commendable for her approach and diligence”, and says “her motivation and dogged determination are enviable and she provides a fantastic role model for other managers, staff, and those within the coffee shop”

Butler Trust Local Champion Chris Carson is Head of Corporate Services at HMP Durham, and says “Lynda’s work with partners to develop social enterprise and rehabilitation initiatives is second to none.  She has expertise, aptitude and ability in this area and [her work] has brought Durham into a very good light.  We are very proud of the work produced by Lynda.” He continues “Lynda is not only great at her job but compassionate and excellent as a manager of staff. She turns good all she takes on and sometimes this can take significant effort. She does not shy away from a job and will get on and do and fix what others have not been able to. She loves a challenge and delivers every time.”

Durham’s Governor, Tim Allen, writes “Lynda has by far stood out from the crowd through her performance and achievements” as she “has drawn out the best from collaborating with partners, beginning and developing new professional relationships and seeing, planning, implementing, delivering and improving with them to obtain positive outcomes which are resettlement centred and a win for all involved.” He says she “is tireless in her efforts and her achievements have increased the reputation of the prison within the local community and within the national press.”

Lynda has also developed a partnership with Durham University to deliver a pioneering ‘Inside Out’ project, in which ‘outside’ criminology students study units of a criminology degree alongside ‘inside’ prisoners. Initially designed in the USA, this is the first such project in Europe. As outside students get a unique learning experience, inside students in turn gain insights into criminology and credits towards a degree.

Chris Carson says “Lynda took on an incredibly complex task to enable the project to happen, managing complex security and logistics over a 10 week period, building relationships, recruiting and engaging inside students and facilitating an inspiring ‘closing ceremony’. Lynda received outstanding feedback and gratitude from Durham University Professors and students.  The students described their experience as ‘a course like no other’.” One talked of “a unique atmosphere with emotional, enthusiastic and exhilarating discussions challenging what it means to be a human being”, while a prisoner on the course said “it has inspired me in different ways, one of which is when I get out, to do good, try and to make the best life I can for my boy and my family.”

Lynda’s determination has helped open up innovative opportunities while developing inspirational partnerships. Local media have praised both the prison and the university for their approach, and Dr Ivan Hill, Director of Undergraduate Criminology at Durham University, recognises Lynda’s “incredible contribution to the outstanding success of the Inside Out Programme.” He adds that he is “delighted to say that all involved – 8 ‘inside students’ and 12 ‘outside students’ have passed. It is, however, in no small part due to the extraordinary contribution of Lynda, who not only was centrally involved in the initial negotiations around the collaboration of the University with HMP Durham working as partners, but has maintained and nurtured that collaborative partnership.” He concludes that “Due to the complexity and demands of such a collaborative partnership I have no doubt whatsoever that without Lynda’s tenacity, professionalism, superb support and good humour the process would have been seriously impeded.”

Barry Strong, Industries Manager at HMP Durham, reports that “It was a fantastic success and was covered extensively in the local and national press in a positive light. It has also attracted ministerial interest and plans are already being developed for the next ‘Inside Out’ cohort.”

Governor Tim Allen notes that “Lynda is not only an excellent manager but a true driver and collaborator. Many of the projects have brought credit to the prison in local press and engaged with local businesses and ventures and the wider community. She has enabled some very positive work in the past year alone and she continues to drive performance forward.”

Lynda herself credits a visit to HMP Kirklevington Grange to see the inspirational work and facilities provided by offenders to staff and the local community, “plus a chance remark on my return”, as leading to her being given the task of developing the coffee shop. She describes “months of planning, working with internal and external partners, developing processes and learning about the legalities of running a business which serves the public.” She involved colleagues from Works, Health and Safety, Security, Finance, The Manchester College and the Kitchen on the Steering Group “to provide much needed advice and guidance.”

She recalls interviewing the last placement, David, a few days before Christmas. “He didn’t have much confidence and I guess he turned up because he had been told to. When I said I would give him a placement his response to his support worker was priceless. He said ‘I walked in there head down looking at my boots, I walked out with my head held high, she’s made my Christmas.’”

As well as providing a valuable facility to staff and visitors, which helps promote healthy relationships with offenders, Lynda says ex-offenders will also have the opportunity to work in the coffee shop, adding “the other placements, past and present, have gained skills and experience they didn’t have before; they have been supported in gaining additional funded qualifications and have grown in confidence. They also tell me they have the kudos of ‘working in a prison’ on their CVs.”

She’s keen to expand the delivery of bistro services in the future by renovating, in partnership with a local college, an unused external building as a construction workshop for the college, and to “develop roles for ex-offenders to work in the facility on completion and provide a tourist attraction showing the prison as a place within the community for over 200 years.” Lynda concludes, “I hope the successes we can evidence at HMP Durham can be modelled elsewhere to encourage other prisons to be more socially inclusive.”

[* Some names have been changed to ensure anonymity]

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