Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

POLLY GILBERT (National Probation Service, London)

POLLY GILBERT (National Probation Service, London)

COMMENDEE 2016-17: Polly, a Probation Officer with the National Probation Service, London, is granted a Commendation for the skill, commitment and positivity she brings to her work with often high-profile and high-risk offenders.

Polly Gilbert is a Probation Officer for the London National Probation Service (NPS), working in Lewisham and Southwark. Her complex caseload includes difficult and sometimes very high profile and high risk offenders, and her excellence at her job in achieving very high levels of compliance and engagement, combined with her “infectious enthusiasm”, is appreciated by a wide range of colleagues.

Becky Canning, Head of the Lewisham & Southwark Cluster, and Polly’s initial nominator, says: “There are many excellent practitioners in the NPS but Polly has a particular style that makes her stand out. She approaches everything she does with an infectious enthusiasm, passion and energy, whether it is supervising a distressed service user, or coaching a colleague. Polly will go that extra mile [and] is able to balance the complex demands relating to control and compassion and meets every challenge with intelligence, sensitivity, warmth and integrity. Polly manages to combine all these attributes with an amazing sense of humour and often serves as a ray of sunshine to her team and to the wider department. Polly Gilbert is a real asset to the NPS and I feel really privileged to work with her.”

Becky reports that Polly “has managed a number of very high profile MAPPA (Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements] Level 3 cases to an excellent standard. She fosters very good relationships with colleagues” including those working in prisons, NOMS, the Local Authority, and the local police. “If I have a really complex case I will turn to Polly as she is a safe pair of hands,” she adds, because “whilst Polly is able to identify and manage risk she is able to balance this with a desistance approach and so the levels of engagement and compliance are exceptional. Polly does not recall because she doesn’t have to.”

Polly is also the Safeguarding Children’s lead for Southwark, and enjoys “an excellent reputation amongst colleagues in Southwark Children’s Social Care,” says Becky, and as a result “Probation’s relationship with the department has never been better.”

Ed Damon, Butler Trust Local Champion and Divisional Business Manager, says Polly “has consistently exceeded the expectations of her role. She is passionate about the work we do and is committed to delivering a high quality service through positive engagement with service users.” He praises her “enthusiastic and pro-active approach to her work.”

Nichola Whiley, Head of Critical Public Protection Casework for NOMS, and who has direct contact with Probation Officers from across the country supervising the most complex and notorious offenders, says Polly stands out “as being a true professional.” Nichola is also impressed by Polly’s ability “to balance the need to have a properly constituted productive working relationship with the offender whilst maintaining the need for the analysis of risk and upholding public protection arrangements. She is confident and clear in all aspects of communication often frank in her representations getting to the heart of an issue respectfully and fairly. She seems able to balance all the complex workload demands and is able to be responsive to case developments.” Nichola concludes by calling Polly “a real credit to the National Probation Service as well as being a truly respected colleague.”

Meanwhile Dermot Kelly, the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub Strategic Manager for Southwark Council, called it “a delight and a privilege” to have Polly as a colleague, calling her “an outstanding professional and an ambassador to her profession. Polly is highly professional and very knowledgeable in her field of work.”

Vicki Bradley works on Operation Jigsaw, the Metropolitan Police operation covering MAPPA, including sex offenders who, says Ed, are “arguably some of the most dangerous in the country”. Vicki says, “We will be recommending her for a Borough Commander’s Commendation, which is an award that very few civilians are ever nominated for. That is recognition in not just the assistance she gave us recently, but her consistent hard work, which assists greatly in keeping the public safe by rehabilitating offenders, and in some cases unfortunately, returning them to prison as a final option.”

Sarah Swift, Polly’s Line Manager, is also highly complimentary of Polly’s work, and says, “her knowledge, skills and enthusiasm have really helped to motivate staff to further develop their confidence and practice in offender management. Polly clearly has the respect of her colleagues and demonstrated leadership within her peer group. I feel very fortunate that she is part of my team.”

Sara Robinson, Deputy Director of the National Probation Service, cites Polly’s “amazing achievements”, calling her “an outstanding Probation Officer who continually demonstrates high levels of support for the offenders in her care.”

Polly explains some of her ethos around Offender Engagement, which she calls “the most fulfilling area of my work.” She says “I practice in a very relational way, taking a whole-person approach, not just focussing on offending, but all aspects of the individual. To achieve this, I prioritise prison visits to start building relationships pre-release, and home visiting to see people in their environment and to meet significant people in their lives.”

A former trainee wrote in to thank Polly “for the support you gave me…It was such a pleasure working with you and I will always remember you for making time to give me the one to one support.”

The last word, and the reason this enthusiasm and excellence makes a difference, comes from a former high risk male offender, now successfully back in the community for two years. Recalling to Polly the first time he met her in prison. “I was horrible to you and I thought, “she’ll never come back”. But you did… you wouldn’t let me do nothing and now I have a life I’m proud of”.

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