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NATALIE MERENDA (East of England Probation Service)

NATALIE MERENDA (East of England Probation Service)

Natalie Merenda

COMMENDEE 2022-23: Natalie’s Commendation is for her work leading the delivery of offending behaviour programmes, on behalf of East of England Probation, to soldiers at the Military Correction and Training Centre, and for the passion and professionalism she brings to all aspects of the role.

Natalie’s initial nominator and line manager, Georgina Self, explains that as the Treatment Manager at the Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC), Natalie consistently makes sure detainees receive ‘the best quality service possible,’ through her training and by identifying staff members from the programme’s team best suited to work within ‘this unique environment.’

Georgina adds that Natalie ‘understands the impact of military service’ on someone’s life, and can balance ‘respecting the unique experience of everyone she works with’ with supporting them to take accountability ‘and believe in their ability to make positive changes.’ One facilitator noted how rewarding it was to witness a real ‘revelation’ moment, and reported a recent DUS [Detainee Under Sentence] saying how it ‘blew my mind’.

Natalie is ‘well known’, says Georgina, ‘as someone who doesn’t give up on anyone’, and has an ‘infectious’ attitude. Colleagues seek out Natalie for advice and guidance, too, ‘on how to work with very chaotic and angry people who truly need the most support and risk management from us as a service.’ Georgina cites a case of a someone who was resisting probation support, considered a risk to staff, and had completed a 26-week programme reducing him from a high to medium risk and had even gained employment. Yet during the programme, he had lost a close family member. ‘Natalie was able to source a suit he would be able to wear to attend the funeral, which he fed back meant the world to him.’

Meanwhile MCTC’s Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Michael T. Fielder, says:

‘[Natalie’s work] really challenged the staff to think about themselves in a way I don’t think some have been challenged before, [giving them] an insight into the work done by your team with the detainees – but it got the staff questioning themselves. I think that is such an important thing, and too often something we don’t do in what is quite a closed environment. Your team were marvellous ambassadors for your organisation and it was humbling to have a peek into what they do for our soldiers.’

Recently approached by Regimental Sergeant Major Ed Redgate, with the Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Michael Fielder’s backing, to deliver a briefing workshop to staff led to ‘overwhelmingly positive’ feedback, with the RSM saying ‘I spoke with the CO later that day and he was massively impressed with you guys and would like to expand and do more.’

Butler Trust Local Champion Anne Ofeke, who is also Staff Engagement and Communications Officer for East of England Probation, says Natalie has a ‘passion’ for MCTC, and ‘in a heartbeat’ she will offer to complete individual sessions and group sessions alongside facilitators. Anne praises Natalie’s commitment to creating ‘a holistic rehabilitative culture’ at MCTC, too – one that also includes the military staff working there. Anne shared further testimonials, including one military staff member saying ‘you guys were amazing; I have had lot of people say how good you guys were and how interesting they found your presentation’ while another added ‘this presentation has made me think I can do more’.

Anne says Natalie is ‘relentlessly positive and hardworking’, and notes how her work at MCTC requires ‘a trauma informed approach’ that takes into account ‘the impact of war, being absent from family and additional mental health concerns.’ She concludes that Natalie’s energy ‘is something unique, and something that many of her colleagues have learnt from.’

Regional Probation Director Steve Johnson-Proctor notes that:

‘The Probation Service in the East of England has the privilege of delivering some of our services in the Military Correction and Training Centre in Essex… Natalie leads this work for us, and is worthy of national recognition because she is delivering and overseeing offending behaviour work in a unique setting with a group of military personnel that have specific experiences which have impacted and influenced their actions.

Offending within the military brings dishonour, which leads to incarceration in the MCTC, and many will face discharge and an uncertain future afterwards. Natalie’s work enables the detainees to understand their behaviour, face the consequences, make decisions to change, and look ahead. It is both challenging and highly rewarding like all elements of Probation practice, and Natalie takes this on with a professionalism that continues to enhance this partnership relationship and our reputation.’

Natalie herself adds that ‘there are so many amazing aspects to my job’, but says delivering programme interventions ‘is such a passion’, adding that she feels ‘extremely privileged’ to be doing her work with military personnel. She notes, too, that delivering training ‘to the Military Staff within MCTC about what we do as part of rehabilitation and behaviour’ is something that brings ‘challenges around different ways of working involving perceptions on punishment and rehabilitation’, making training on collaborative working ‘to ensure the best outcome for the detainee’ something that ‘is key.’

Having started at 17, and in her 28th year of probation work, she concludes, happily:

‘I can honestly say that that I still get such a buzz with so much of my job [and] delivering interventions and literally seeing the things we are introducing put into practice and have an impact… it still gives me the most amazing smile on my face.’