Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2016-17: Sian is a Probation Officer with Wales CRC; nominated by an offender, she receives a Commendation for all-round excellence in her work with, and on behalf of, the people in her care.
Sian Waters is a Probation Officer for Wales Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) who has, for 15 years, brought a distinctive blend of imagination and the ability to motivate to create real change, and opportunities, into the lives of those she works with – most recently with an innovative community project helping to ‘upcycle’ (recycling with added value) in Llanelli, Wales.
Justin*, the offender who nominated Sian with a poignant hand-written note, describes how “Sian will go the extra mile for any service user… If people are struggling in any area of their life, Sian will help them deal with issues, so it is not just about employment.”
Ella Rabaiotti, Head of Local Delivery Unit at Wales CRC and Local Butler Trust Champion, explains that Sian “has been the lead architect in designing an innovative scheme to bring Community Payback and Service Users together in social enterprise… Sian came up with an innovative idea to work collaboratively on a social enterprise. Using her contacts at the YMCA Community College Wales she helped to develop accredited training packages for offenders to make them more employable.”
Sian’s vision for ‘Ail Gyfle’ – ‘Second Chance’ – was built around recycling and upgrading old and unwanted furniture, as well as making wooden items for sale in the charity’s shop and at craft fairs. Sian has also enabled offenders to work on recognised Open College Network training programmes. Ella adds that, “as always, Sian keeps the offender at the centre ensuring their needs are met.”
Sian has led with design ideas, encouraged the involvement of the women’s service user group, and created links with work placement opportunities and essential skills providers.
Ella tells of one success story about a female service user “with a ‘difficult’ past, who is now volunteering as an administration assistant for the charity. With Sian’s support through running an integral service user group, she has finished her order and is optimistic for her future.”
Ella says that “imaginative, and motivational with the ability to save lives are just a couple of the ways peers and service users describe Sian Waters”, and lists some recent achievements including “helping offenders create their own service-user DVD, running peer mentoring courses and launching a pilot social enterprise where service users and persistent offenders can be trained while making craft and woodwork items.” She praises Sian’s “ability to build strong and purposeful relationships.”
Margaret*, an ex-offender now employed as a Service User Co-ordinator, put the impact of Sian on her life in stark terms: “If it wasn’t for Sian I would be dead. She saved my life. She helped me turn my life around, gave me opportunities and motivated me to do things I would not have dreamt of doing before.”
“Sian talked me into applying for the job when I didn’t have the confidence or belief in myself. She still carries on doing that today. She has changed lives across Llanelli. We all look upon her fondly – she is an amazing woman and without her I don’t know where I would be today. All the service users want to work with Sian because she never gives up on them; she is non-judgmental, fair and honest. We need more people like Sian.”
Deb Chapman, Project Manager for the local charity involved in Ail Gyfle, describes Sian as “a great probation service officer who connects naturally with service users, colleagues and partners in a straight forward manner displaying wisdom, compassion and a great sense of humour.”
As Wales CRC’s Probation Director, Dawn Blower, notes, “It is lovely to see one of our service users feeling strongly enough about the work Sian is doing in partnership with a local Llanelli charity, Ail Gyfle, to put her forward for the awards. Sian is one of our most creative members of staff and has a great rapport with the service users.”
Sian herself emphasises that “part of my vision” has been to ensure “service users have had a major role in the project to date… We have employed an ex service user as the workshop manager, and have another ex service user volunteering to undertake the administrative work.”
Sian adds “there are many more benefits which offenders talk of, such as the creativity, ‘thinking outside of the box’ and developing problem-solving skills, and increasing self esteem. It has been described as ‘infectious’ by service users and reduces reoffending as they are learning new practical skills as well as social skills.”
The environmental impact of the scheme is impressive, too. “In the last month alone, we have saved over 1 ton of discarded wood from landfill, had 4 single placements from Unpaid work and given training for certificates in Health and Safety, Manual Handling, Recycling and Customer Services. Since the beginning of the project, we have had an average of 30 offenders per month as part of Unpaid Work groups and an average of six single placements. Four service users have remained as volunteers.”
Sian’s plans include forming a network of employers for work placements, and notes “this will create a tangible reward for the service users and help create successful and offence free futures.”
As the ex-offender Margaret said, “We need more people like Sian.”