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



Shane Spencer

COMMENDEE 2018-19: Shane is a Physical Education Instructor at HMP Haverigg. He receives a Commendation for the drive and creativity he has shown in promoting the physical and mental health of prisoners, including in setting up the UK’s first ever prison Parkrun.

Initial Nominator and Line Manager, John McInally, says Shane is ‘completely committed to the ethos of health and well-being’ while maintaining ‘an excellent balance of care, security, and ensuring those in his care are treated with the utmost respect.’

Although Shane’s work involves a number of impressive initiatives, his inspired introduction of the world’s first prison Parkrun at Haverigg attracted wide interest and national news coverage, with stories by the BBC, ITV, The Guardian, among others. Parkrun involves millions of runners and hundreds of thousands of volunteers, and John says it was ‘Shane’s vision to see that success replicated inside HMP Haverigg.’ The first Parkrun event took place on the prison sports field in November 2016 and was greeted with ‘fantastic participation and support from prisoners.’ It continues to mirror the community events, taking place every Saturday morning, with around 50 prisoners taking part.

Local Butler Trust Champion and People Hub Manager, Karen Stewart, mentions a number of other initiatives that Shane has been instrumental in introducing, including ‘Health Trainers’ and ‘Peer Supporters’. Among other tasks, they visit the induction unit every morning ‘to speak with the new prisoners and ensure that, at this most vulnerable time, they have access to information, advice and a listening ear.’ They also encourage individuals who may be self-isolating, refusing to work, or involved with drug taking, to get involved with gym. Remedial PE is another project specifically aimed at marginalised prisoners. Meanwhile Shane also took part in Our Blue Light’s Mental Health Relay, where a torch is passed around all of the emergency and essential services in the North West. Shane arranged for the torch to be run around Haverigg’s Saturday Parkrun, and then, with a small team, cycled 54 miles to HMP Lancaster Farms to pass on the torch.

‘I don’t think that the impact of the introduction of Parkrun on the lives of prisoners at Haverigg can be underestimated,’ says Alfie*, a prisoner. ‘Shane has not only changed my life but saved it! Shane has also encouraged me to establish better family ties [and] even registered my daughter to take part in her local run.’ Others in turn look to Alfie as an inspiration and motivation: he currently holds the Haverigg Parkrun record. Nigel*, another prisoner, describes how, working in Reception, he makes early contact with new arrivals who he thinks would benefit from referral to Remedial PE Sessions. As a health trainer and peer, he says, ‘they are more likely to take on board the information given to them.’ Another prisoner, Robert*, remarks that ‘it is easy to lose sight of your self-respect in prison but working with PEI Spencer on initiatives such as these allows us to maintain our self-esteem in the knowledge that we are making a difference to our own lives as well as others.’

Governing Governor, Tony Corcoran, notes that Shane’s world-first Parkrun gained a lot of publicity, ‘from the Secretary of State’s approval on Twitter to enquiries on duplicating the initiative from Ireland, Australia and other UK prisons. Our Parkrun is supported by visits to Haverigg by other prison service staff and our own IMB chair,’ adding that he has seen ‘first-hand the health and lifestyle benefits for prisoners’ taking part.

Shane himself says that ‘a lot of the time, men in our care don’t realise the potential they have, and it’s very satisfying bringing it out of them and helping them to turn their life around.’ He has also managed to get Parkrun’s new initiative, ‘The Parkrun Practice’, approved for a prison setting. ‘This initiative works closely with local GP practices in getting people referred directly to Parkrun for issues such as weight, mental health and stress. We are the first gymnasium and healthcare department in the country to do this within a prison,’ explains Shane. ‘It is already bearing fruit with referrals coming through our door, which is fantastic. Parkrun is ideal for this due to the fact they have marshalling roles so men can join us even if they are not interested in walking or running, giving them a sense of purpose and belonging.’ Meanwhile, ‘to help men with limited resources, I have introduced a clothing scheme where national Parkrun events donate excess kit to us’ which is loaned to men who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend.

Another new initiative by Shane is a 3-day course ‘that specifically focuses on attitudes, thinking and behaviour as well as team building. Day One focuses on communication skills. These are then put into practice in numerous team-building exercises. Their final task is a group activity where they enter an escape room and, against the clock, have to problem solve various tasks using all the skills they have developed in a set time. Day Two is a community-based task, where the men give something back to the prison community that is of benefit to their peers. Day Three focuses on target setting, with the aim of getting the men that are currently disengaging with the regime back into full time employment.” Continuous follow up support is then offered for a four week period after the course.

As Karen says, Shane is ‘a shining example of someone who really cares about the job he does and the people he works with, both prisoners and colleagues.’

* Prisoners’ names have been anonymised.

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