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AWARD WINNER 2021-22: A teacher at HMP/YOI Cardiff, Matt wins an Award for his work on Knox TV – a station he set up, from scratch and with no prior experience, to help keep the prisoners educated and entertained during Covid; and for which he produced most of the content, much of it in his own time.
[This Award is supported by The Bromley Trust.]

‘Inspiring, infectious, and tenacious’

In supporting Matt’s nomination, Deputy Governor, Ash Thomas, had this to say:

“Teacher Matt Hillard is one of the most determined, compassionate and enthusiastic members of staff I have come across in my 26 years’ service. The care, well-being & rehabilitation of offenders is at the heart of everything Matt does, and the manner in which he does this is inspiring and infectious.

Despite being told not to, Matt puts hours and hours of his own time, almost every night, researching and editing media clips and creating educational and motivational content before preparing and uploading it for the men in our care to view in their cells.

He has focused on the local community, Welsh culture and language, diversity and inclusion, mental health awareness, mindfulness and meditation. He is tenacious about scheduling and planning to ensure the right sessions are transmitted at the right time for the prison audience.

This has no doubt prevented some of our men harming themselves during the pandemic.”

As Learning & Skills work shut down in the pandemic – a crisis inevitably confining men to their cells for long periods, with many anxious for themselves and their families – his heroic efforts were a real gain throughout the prison.

It was something prisoners “could engage in,” say Matt’s nominator, Nick Sandford of the Chaplaincy. Working across departments, Knox TV brought information, education, and comfort, too, in uncertain times. With no relevant experience, Matt learned to use Macs, multimedia software, cameras, recording and editing equipment. “What Matt achieved during this time was fantastic”, says Nick, “it’s a vast project that demanded serious creative and technical skills”.

Cardiff’s Head of Learning & Skills, Louise Morgan, adds a touching example of the impact of Matt’s work. Moved by the difficulties deaf prisoners were experiencing in custody, he produced a basic sign language series and broadcast it to the prison. “It is heartening to see other prisoners now communicating to deaf prisoners and helping them,” says Louise, “and, more importantly, feeling accepted by others.”

The station also provides services from the Chapel, and material supporting cultural celebrations and events. As filmmaker, cameraman, director and editor, the “polished and professional work” he produced reflects the fact Matt, as he admits, is “very passionate about teaching and giving the prisoners the opportunity and skills to better themselves – so I enjoyed this challenge. I also wanted the channel to contribute to the mental wellbeing of prisoners during this time.”

Here’s just some of the content Matt produced: Relax with Rhythm, Mindfulness, Sign Language, Steps to Wellbeing, and The Football Business – often backed by ‘in cell booklets’ developed to use and complete alongside programmes. And today the channel operates seven days a week with pre-recorded content going out on a weekly basis.”

Unsurprisingly, Matt is not one to rest on his laurels: “In the last three weeks I have enrolled a cohort of prisoners who are now helping me create the content for Knox TV. I also now teach and deliver multimedia qualifications for prisoners and have introduced a newsroom for the prisoners to present on.” And he’s working with ‘Through the Gate’, and other support partners and agencies, developing material to present on Knox TV. And, he says, the station also helps in connecting with hard-to-reach individuals.

Matt adds that he is “particularly proud of an advert I created to encourage prisoners to have their covid vaccination. This advert interviews a GP for factual information, but also includes the prisoner experience of having the vaccine – and their reasons for having it. Owing to this advert the rate of uptake significantly increased and the advert is also now going to be shown in all Welsh prisons.”

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