RICHARD GRAHAM (Hydebank Wood College & Women’s Prison)
AWARD WINNER 2022-23: Richard’s Award is for his exceptional work as a Vocational Training Officer, teaching gardening and animal husbandry, at HMP/YOC Hydebank Wood – “changing lives one at a time” through his caring and inspiring approach, and winning a top prize at the Balmoral Show along the way.
[He also receives the Keith Bromley Award for Education & Skills Training.]
Adele Norton is Richard’s Line Manager and Initial Nominator, and calls Richard ‘a man who goes beyond any expectations required of him. In a world of change, his commitment never ceases. His remit is vast and no job is too much.’ She cites his work with the young men in his group as providing life skills; looking after the grounds of Hydebank Wood with planting and maintaining flower beds, window boxes, hanging baskets and tubs; overseeing the Animal Husbandry; and, perhaps best of all, the way he ‘continuously raises morale with his constant smile and kind nature.’ She adds that:
‘Observing Richard with his team of young males is rehabilitation and resettlement at its best. He treats the young men with so much respect and dignity. They have a great relationship with him and are always happy at their work. Without knowing it they are learning new life skills every day. He continuously challenges them to change in a very caring way. These young men are not high achievers in the academic world but Richard has a way to find their skills and enhance them. Building confidence and self-esteem and a self-worth they never knew they had.’
A story from his animal husbandry highlights the impact Richard has, says Adele. ‘During lambing season, two of the team slept overnight in a cabin to watch over the ewes and deliver lambs, a skill Richard discovered one of the young men had. The young men also took lambs from the community to care for and bottle feed. It was an amazing experience for them and brought joy to Hydebank watching the lambs be cared for, carried about and fed by those in our care. The dedication from one of the young men in particular in looking after the ram, enabled him to go out to the biggest agricultural show in Northern Ireland, Balmoral Show where he won the first red rosette for Hydebank. Continuing from this, he was also the first young man in custody to shear the Hydebank sheep. A highly sought-after skill in the community that provides a great employment opportunity upon release.
‘Richard Graham, vocational training officer at Hydebank and part-time sheep farmer, started the agri-initiative eight years ago, with the hope of providing animal therapy to the young inmate students.
“I come from a farming background and I work in the gardens at Hydebank, where we have copious amounts of grass,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
One of the young men, who is currently out on bail for a driving offence, was able to showcase the sheep in the Balmoral competition today.
“That is our first red rosette ever in the Balmoral show and this is our first time showing this breed,” Richard continued.
He said the effect that taking care of the sheep has had on the young men has been “hugely successful” and this year, they were even able to lamb some of the ewes without his help.
“This year we produced 10 lambs. A lamb we had bred last year, we sold him at £820 and that’s good money [which all goes back into the prison].”
“I’m a prison officer first and foremost. I’ve been in the job 29 years, although I’ve been doing gardening since 2006 and only started this scheme in 2016,” Richard continued.
“See if one person this year, next year and the year after, doesn’t reoffend, because I’ve taken them and shown them what they can do, shown them how great it is to work with animals, and they then go out and get work on a farm and stay out of trouble — if we do that three years in a row, that’s £165,000 saved. It’s been a huge success.”
Richard is ‘highly respected by staff and students alike’, says Adele, with the skills he teaches providing social enterprise opportunities ‘including selling plants, hanging baskets and filled pots.’ She concludes her remarks poignantly:
‘He changes lives one at a time. He has excellent interpersonal skills and is patient, understanding, rewarding and a positive asset to the Northern Ireland Prison Service.’
Butler Trust Local Champion Mark Holmes is Deputy Governor at Hydebank, and notes Richard’s ‘ability to establish clear boundaries that both equally support and challenge the behaviours and needs of the individuals under his tutelage exemplifies the best of the culture in Hydebank Wood.’
Hydebank’s Governor in Charge, Richard Taylor, adds his own testimonial, saying Richard Graham’s ‘personal dedication’ has had a significant input on those he has worked with, and notes that ‘the personal responsibility associated with animal husbandry has allowed the young men and women to develop into responsible, caring people.’ He concludes that both Hydebank Wood and the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) corporately ‘are very proud of his achievements.’
Richard Graham himself adds some further details about the scale of the work achieved and his approach. ‘I have always offered advice, empathy and education to the boys in my work party,’ he says. ‘I encourage participation and to see the reaction to their achievements makes my job rewarding.’ He goes on: ‘Gardening is a life skill and the self-esteem and sense of achievement the boys displayed was very evident — they now produce 11 to 12 thousand plants annually. In 2016 we introduced animals/husbandry/pet therapy into Hydebank. We purchased 2 sheep followed by goats, hens, donkeys, fish and bees…six years later our breeding programme has raised our number of sheep to 22. All the work in this project e.g., lambing, rearing, husbandry, clipping and indeed preparing for shows outside the Centre is done by the boys. This project challenged the boys to a different level but their achievements, life skills, and self-esteem has been elevated to new levels. As a result of our teaching boys have continued their studies on release and a number gone into full time employment on a farm.’
He concluded with some remarks of his near 30 years working with males and females that are both moving and hopeful:
‘Many are violent, aggressive and suffering from addiction issues, many are vulnerable, lonely and self-harming, presenting a serious risk of taking their own lives. Animal husbandry has been a key driver to challenging poor attitudes and harnessing the potential that everyone has for self-improvement. Many have transformed the way they think and act and have achieved personal goals. The personal pride and satisfaction of creating and building professional relationships with these young men and women has been awesome. To watch them go out in front of large gatherings of people to show their sheep and then to receive the top prize at Balmoral, the largest show in Northern Ireland, proves to me that everyone can change and create a richer and fuller life for themselves.’