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COMMENDEE 2017-18: Ray is a Specialist Bicycle Maintenance Instructor at HMP Kirkham; he is Commended, having been nominated by a prisoner, for his dedication and skill in helping to change the lives of the men in his charge.

Ray Stuart is a Specialist Bicycle Maintenance Instructor at HMP Kirkham. Over last five years he has created a remarkable bike workshop. It’s sent some 600 bikes to developing countries in partnership with the Margaret Carey Foundation, trained and qualified dozens of men to industry standards, and developed life-changing work opportunities for some on their release.

Ray’s dedication is captured well by initial nominator Owen*, serving a life sentence, and worth quoting in some detail:

“Ray would travel from bike-shop to bike-shop where he came up against brick walls when the mention of a life sentence prisoner working in their shop was mentioned. He spent a lot of his own time and put a lot of faith and trust in me and didn’t give up until he found a placement at Halfords. After weeks of looking and finding me the placement, he then spent a lot more of his own time organising and preparing me for the start of this life changing opportunity for me.

He made sure I had the correct safety equipment (helmet, lights) and even the right bicycle for me to travel to my workplace at Halfords. Even on one of his days off (Sunday) he organised to ride the route on bicycle with me to show me the best route to take to and from work, not many people would ride 15 miles on their days off just to show them the route, this shows the kind of person Mr Stuart is.

I am so grateful to Halfords for the opportunity but without Mr Stuart going above and beyond none of this would have happened. He has given me constant support with any problems. I have been working at Halfords now for 8 months and have been offered employment at two of their stores. I will be starting full-time employment with Halfords when I am released.”

Owen goes on to describe just what this means for him personally:

“This has given me confidence and a solid start to my new life outside. It has given me a full-time job, stability on release, and helped me to rebuild family ties and built trust with my children again. The promise of employment and stability also helped me to gain my parole. Mr Stuart has given me the opportunity to rebuild my life and I will be forever grateful to him for training me, helping with issues and I think going way beyond his duty to help me.”

Local Butler Trust Champion and Kirkham’s People Hub Manager, Karen Phillips, calls the work Ray does in conjunction with the Margaret Carey Foundation, refurbishing bikes for third world countries, “inspiring”. Not only do the men in Ray’s shop learn excellent new skills, “they also gain an understanding of the hardship faced by others around the world, and how a simple thing like a donated bicycle can change lives.”

Ray canvassed for funds to introduce the Industry Standard Velotech qualification, and the Margaret Carey Foundation Bike Refurbishment Award. With the course in place, “Ray made sure that his lads were equipped with literacy skills and forged links with the Library Manager to provide mentors to help the lads and give them a good shot at completing the exam with confidence… What makes Ray stand out from the crowd is his doggedness to build something out of nothing and his own work ethos: ‘you get out what you put in.’”

Another prisoner, Nathan*, admits to finding prison “a very hard experience”, but says, “after arriving at Kirkham and meeting Ray in the Bicycle Workshop, the last part of my sentence has flown by.” Nathan goes on, movingly:

“He made me feel worth something…he became my friend and helped me get through my sentence much easier as I had a really hard time due to mental health issues along with family issues. Life was hard [and] he not only helped me with my studies to gain Velotech qualifications but helped me gain my self worth and my new outlook on life. He also helped me with a trade which I thoroughly enjoy and for this I will be forever grateful.”

Graham Beck, Kirkham’s Governor, calls Ray “a remarkable man, modestly influencing a huge number of people through his work…to give the men a real chance in life.”

As Einstein wrote to his son, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” Ray’s plans for his workshop – including more complex bikes and new partnerships – suggest he intends to keep on doing just that.

* Name changed

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