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COMMENDEE 2015-16: Sharon is a National Careers Service advisor working at HMP/YOI Hatfield, and is granted a Commendation for the dedication and passion she brings to all aspects of her work.

Sharon BeardonSharon Beardon is a National Careers Advisor working at HMP/YOI Hatfield, who is Commended for the outstanding dedication and passion she brings to her work.

As her nominator Liz Whitaker, Learning Skills and Employment Manager at Hatfield, explains, Sharon is “an exceptional individual who makes a remarkable difference to improving prisoner’s lives through her dedication and passion to transform lives. She is highly thought of by both prisoners and staff.” Liz cites “the sheer number of thank you letters she receives from prisoners who she has directly helped secure training and/or employment on release. Prisoners describe her work as outstanding and her desire to want to help. Sharon goes above and beyond her role to help make a difference by listening to prisoner’s worries, hopes and aspirations. She is committed to providing a quality service [and] excels in her work.”

The numbers are impressive, too. In the last year, “Sharon has got 44 people into work, a further 24 will go into work on release, 68 have accessed courses, 54 gained CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) cards and 36 Forklift licences.”

Sharon sees partnership working “as essential to providing a first class service”, says Liz. “Her drive and commitment to get Virtual Campus up and running in conjunction with Manchester College has been relentless. Her innovative thinking has enabled prisoners to create CVs on Virtual Campus which she then submits to CV builder and acts as a broker for employment opportunities. This work has allowed prisoners to apply for jobs [and] on occasions be selected for interview and even secure paid employment.”

Liz describes how Sharon “has forged links with many organisations to secure funding allowing prisoners to access courses which otherwise would not be available. She has good relations with the Hardman Trust, Salvation Army, and British Legion to find additional funding for training that will then lead to employment.”

As well as her excellent knowledge of the labour market, which allows her to provide “accurate and realistic advice to prisoners about their employment prospects on release”, Sharon “has established many successful relationships with external providers. She was instrumental in arranging a training open day which invited providers in to speak about opportunities available. The event aimed to boost access to further training and set up new partnerships.” As a result, says, Liz, “One company have offered free CSCS qualifications.” Sharon has also developed a partnership with Intertain (the largest railway training provider) “to develop a partnership with the prison providing training opportunities for up 15 prisoners. This meant free training of up to £800 per prisoner has been secured with guaranteed job interviews on release.”

Liz notes that prisoners often say of Sharon how rare it is to find “someone who is so committed to their role”, and will often contact her after release “to share positive employment outcomes. She receives letters from prisoners in other prisons asking for help due to her reputation.” Here are some extracts from letters prisoners have written to Sharon to express their gratitude:

“Sharon has been amazing, fighting my corner relentlessly working hard in securing funding… I can’t thank her enough for what she has done for me. Without her devotion the employment I have now secured would not have happened,” wrote Henry*. Jim had this to say: “From the first introduction I could sense that the lady talking to me really did care and was in fact genuinely interested in my future post Prison Life. It was obvious she knew her job very well. From talking with a large number of the residents it is clear for all to see that she relentlessly strives to solve each and every hurdle in a professional manner.”

Another ex-prisoner, Richard, wrote: “The £500 funding you secured at such short notice enabled me to gain the qualification I require to secure my future employment as a HGV Class 1 driver,” while Alan said “She supported me though some bad times, kept my spirits up and made sure that I got the training I needed for the job that she has helped me to retain.” Another, Dave, had this to share: “My family and myself would like to thank Sharon for all the hard work she has done for me over the past 17 months, she has been amazing to be able to secure me employment after serving 15 years in prison.”

As another member of staff noted of Sharon, “she takes immense pride in seeing the lads do well”, and gave an example of her arranging for a mechanical digger to be brought in to support a group of prisoners in gaining qualifications. “She attended these sessions in her own time saying ‘I don’t want there to be a problem, the lads have worked so hard for this.’”

Liz concludes “She is unique in what she does and deserves recognition. Sharon would describe this as ‘just doing her job’ but what she gives goes beyond and changes prisoners lives for the better.”

Butler Trust Local Champion Neil Moore, Deputy Governor at Hatfield, says “Sharon’s enthusiasm drive and determination to make a difference has never faltered. I have a catalogue of information from prisoners who have written to the establishment and Sharon to thank her personally for the difference she has made to their lives. Importantly many remain in employment and crime free, which is a common theme running through the letters, e-mails and phone calls we receive on Sharon’s behalf in thanks.”

Neil goes on to say that “Sharon has built an excellent reputation and has become a local champion as the conduit between HMP Hatfield, the offender and external funding sources, training providers and employers.” He notes that “the statistical data is listed on the nomination form but that doesn’t tell the whole story. This nomination is very much about reducing re-offending – research highlights employment and training as two of the key pathways to reduce recidivism. Sharon has and continues to change lives, she does it with passion, enthusiasm and energy which seems to inspire others to succeed.”

He says the team has “the utmost respect and admiration for Sharon and the commitment she shows whilst at work as do I,” adding that “what makes Sharon special and in my opinion stand out from the crowd [is that she is] resilient in an ever changing environment, she provides consistency and hope to prisoners seeking a way out of a life of crime, her honesty and support is appreciated by all.”

Administration Officer Yvonne Wise works closely with Sharon and says she is “often swept up in the whirlwind that is her passion to help others.  Her determination can be both frustrating and enthralling at the same time.  She goes above and beyond and is altruistic in her work with both staff and prisoners alike.” Yvonne describes how a prisoner “recently came to see me to express his concern that he’d heard a rumour that Sharon may be moving on to pastures new.  He was clearly worried and asked, ‘what will the prisoners do without her? She helps us so much, we really do appreciate what she does.’”

Course Tutor Steve Sayles describes another prisoner, Anthony, who enrolled on an Electrical Installation course and how Sharon “walked him through the process as only she does. [He] has gone from strength to strength [and] been chosen by a number of his tutors to be awarded the Electrical Engineering Student of the Year… When I talk with Sharon, this is her reward. She takes immense pride in seeing the lads do well and so she should, it is herself after all that sets them off on the right path.”

Hatfield’s Governor Christopher Dyer agrees: “Sharon brings to the establishment a special blend of commitment, enthusiasm and resilience, which I am extremely pleased to have in my reducing re-offending team. I often hear prisoners and staff praise her work and the results she provides speak for themselves… Sharon is personable, realistic, honest and brave which are values I hold dear and ones I try to instil in all of my staff… her actions and performance speak louder than words.”

Sharon herself offers more insight into her work and her unique approach: “I make sure that my customers are motivated and feel confident enough to achieve their aspirations rather than it just be on their wish list.  This additional work includes: taking the time to listen and understand individuals concerns, fears and hopes for the future. I provide up to date labour market information so together we can explore future goals in relation to job availability. I explore and exhaust funding options and apply with and on behalf of my customers, managing the outcome of these… I find, arrange and manage College placements/Apprenticeships and all external training… I find arrange and manage all voluntary placements and paid employment making sure that the right candidates are put in the best position possible to gain theses roles, teaching them the do’s and don’ts when it comes to CV writing and interviews.  I source potential employers, selling the benefits of employing offenders/ex-offenders putting their minds at ease, and that collectively we want the companies to be happy.”

As Sharon adds, “to make sure a seamless service is provided to my customers I give up my own time, early starts, evenings, and my weekends… My service has now extended beyond my current place of work, through word of mouth. Prisoners from other establishments write to me to ask for my help and support.”

Sharon values a rapport with her customers which means “that when they are released they will call to speak to me to let me know of their progression with education, training and employment. They also thank me for my help, telling me that without my support they wouldn’t be where they are today. I offer further support if required or signpost them to colleagues.”

Ofsted recently graded her National Careers Service provision as outstanding. Sharon notes a wider impact on staff, too. Some, for example, may be examining their own career options – or those of their families. She emphasises the importance of employment, together with “the feeling of self-worth and being part of the community… becoming a role model for children and family members.”

Sharon sees hundreds of ‘customers’ each year and her success in finding so many – over half – sustainable employment, education, and training options, is a remarkable testament to the impact of her work.

[* Names of ex-prisoners have been changed to protect their identity.]

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