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

STEVE BAXTER (HMP Littlehey)

STEVE BAXTER (HMP Littlehey)

Steve Baxter (HMP Littlehey)

COMMENDEE 2014-15: Steve is granted a Commendation, as a tutor in the Motor Mechanics workshop at HMP Littlehey, for creating a highly respected training programme to equip prisoners with work-related qualifications, skills and experience.

SteveBaxterSteve Baxter works as a Body Shop Tutor for the social purpose company A4e (Action for Employment) at HMP Littlehey, and is particularly impressive for the way he took a potentially routine activity and pushed it to an extraordinarily high level.

Steve’s original nomination, by Stuart Hogben, A4e Education Provider at HMP Littlehey, although unusually brief, demonstrates the power of concision in getting across the character of Steve’s work. Both paragraphs are worth quoting in full:

“Steve Baxter is the jewel as well as the crown it is embedded in; a shining example of what it is to be a model professional and the best possible role model for our learners; being inspirational in every possible way to play his part in the rehabilitation of the men in our care…

For the last three and a half years he has been our Bodywork Repair tutor in the Motor Mechanics Department and has quietly gone about his work with little fuss or fanfare while building a provision that has become a beacon of excellence within A4e and the wider prison estate and given the highest praise by OFSTED.”

Head of Residence at HMP Littlehey, Kevin White, fleshes out a remarkable story.

“Steve has not only delivered but overdelivered in his workshop. It would have been perfectly adequate for Steve to acquire a few beaten up old cars to panel beat and repair over and over again for the sake of getting his learners through a qualification. The men would have learned the basics as to what is required in industry and they would have got their diploma. That works for the business, it works for the prison, it works for the learners; everyone is happy. Everyone except Steve because Steve isn’t like that. Steve used his trade experience, skills and knowledge to set up a partnership with the Ford Heritage Trust to fully restore rare vintage (and not so vintage) vehicles from Ford’s vast collection.”

It started small, with a not very valuable car sent into the prison to see what the standard was like. Extremely impressed, Ford started sending ever more valuable and important cars from their collection. Many of the newly restored vehicles are used for film and television and other high profile occasions.

“Steve is the kind of person who can take the roughest of diamonds and make them sparkle,” adds Kevin. “Nowhere else in the prison will you witness such camaraderie and teamwork. Prisoners who, before they start the course would probably never say hello share Steve’s attitude, commitment and outlook. This is real rehabilitation. This is what matters. It’s about so much more than a piece of paper, a route to employment (which it undoubtedly is), it’s about how they change as people and what they carry with them long after the course has finished that is the testament to the effect he has on people, and he is so modest he doesn’t even see it.”

Steve’s approach, in his own words, is deceptively simple. “The workshop has been highly praised by Ofsted, by A4e and by the prison – though that is not why I do this. I do this job for the learners. They are the heart of what I do and in providing them with a real, viable career option with [some of the highest] qualifications and more important skills and experience I hope I can contribute in helping turn their lives around and offering them some hope for the future.”

The high reputation of Steve’s course – which he regards himself as “extremely lucky” to run – means there is a huge waiting list.” This, in turn, helps with discipline both on the course and in the wider prison.

Steve’s ethos is that “once learners are in the workshop, they are treated with respect, as workers, as learners – not as prisoners. I firmly believe that respect breeds respect which is why I like to believe I have such a good working relationship with everyone that passes through.”

Several of Steve’s former learners have gone on to run their own workshops or otherwise work in the trade, and the results of their work can regularly be seen in films, on television, and in Ford’s Heritage Motor Centre – which obviously confers a huge boost in self-esteem for those lucky enough to have been learners in Steve’s workshop.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

[Steve Baxter gives his account of the work for which he won his Commendation]

In 2015 I was awarded a commendation for ‘doing my job’, it was hard to understand why I had been even nominated for simply doing my best at work; surely that’s what we all do? But upon further reflection, it’s more than just a job to me. I am proud of Workshop number 8 and of all the men that come in to it, wanting to learn, improve their knowledge and prepare themselves for a positive future. If passing on my knowledge and skills to them helps and encourages them to believe in themselves more, then I am happy to do that. The training programme I helped to create has become highly respected and gained a good reputation throughout the prison. It has received the highest praise from OFSTED and receives glowing internal reviews.

The first thing learners are encouraged to practice is respect for one another. I strongly believe respect breeds respect and which is why I have such a good working relationship with everyone that passes through. There are days where a learner can be affected by issues outside of the workshop and we all have to show an understanding to these challenges and deal with them in a considerate and respectable fashion. Because of this strong ethos, the camaraderie and teamwork within the workshop has been witnessed and commented on by colleagues. By sharing my passion for the work we undertake I aim to reflect that same attitude, commitment and outlook in the men I teach.

I see the main element to my role as assisting the learners to gain a recognised qualification which will then increase their employment opportunities once they have served their time. It is about rehabilitation and changing their attitude and mindset. It has been noted that “reoffending rates are greatly influenced by whether a person finds work or not. Employment is often quoted as the most important factor in helping to reduce reoffending”. My aim is to provide the learners with a qualification they can be proud of as well as giving them a reason to be proud of themselves. A previous CIPD Survey stated “employers show that, contrary to common perceptions, their experiences of employing ex-offenders have been positive. Retention rates are high and ex-offenders make valuable and reliable employees”. This is what drives me day to day to ensure the training programme is providing the learners with exactly what they need.

Since the beginning the training programme has achieved great success, such as:

  • Former learners going on to run their own workshops or work in the trade
  • Ford Heritage Partnership
  • The results of the work being regularly seen on TV, exhibitions and in Ford’s Heritage Motor Centre
  • Praise by OFSTED, Internal Reviews and the wider Prison Estate
  • A long waiting list for the programme due to its increasing reputation
  • Butler Trust Commendation

These successes confers a huge boost in self-esteem for all involved in the programme it also assists in ensuring the learners control discipline within the workshop and in the wider prison. It gives them a daily focus and reason to be proud. It provides the learner with news to write home about and an interest that most people would be willing to hear about.

For me, it fires my dedication and passion to show that Education within the Prison environment works, rehabilitation works and I am making a difference. It’s one thing to see a customer’s face when you have repaired their pride and joy but to see a learner’s face when they have achieved something they never thought possible is amazing and makes it all worthwhile. Being awarded the Commendation just added to the satisfaction I get from my work.

Setting up and gaining the Ford Heritage Partnership has been a major factor in the training programmes success. It would have been sufficient enough to acquire a few scrap cars for the learners to panel beat and repair over and over, for the aim of getting through the programme and obtaining their qualification. However, this would only have provided the learners with a qualification it would not have provided the learners with a proper visual aid of what they had achieved; it would not have given them a sense of achievement or given them a reason to be impressed by their increased knowledge and skills.

Initially we were provided with a ‘test’ car to work on that would enable Ford’s to see what standard of work we could produce. Extremely impressed, Ford began to send more valuable and impressive cars from their collection and we were able to restore rare vintage cars that were then to be used for TV and other high profile occasions. My most memorable cars are an old Mustang which then went on to participate in the Geneva car show for the launch of the new Mustang, a 1929 model A which has taken us two years to hand make the panels from scratch, this car now feels like part of the workshop, and the latest project an RS200 which there’s only a hand full left.

Working on these cars means that all the learners need to be fully trained and up to date with Health and Safety and this is why the first two weeks of each new course is spent discussing, explaining and understanding the strict rules that must be adhered to within the workshop. The learners also need to be confident in maintaining and using all the tools and equipment; we have seven hundred and fifty eight tools in workshop 8! This is a mammoth task; issuing between fifty to one hundred and fifty tools out each session. Every piece is tallied and etched so I know who has what tools. At the end of each session every tool must be accounted for and returned to its original place. Prior to opening the workshop I made shadow boards for every single tool so that at a quick glance I could see if any were missing. Likewise it meant that each tool was returned to its correct spot after use. They are all stored within locked units. I can’t imagine how many times I have opened and closed those cabinets over the passed four and half years, I did try to work it out one day but gave up!

The hardest part the job for me is actually learning how to interact with the learners from different paths of life, issues that have affected them in the past and learning how to deal with the day to day stresses they face from prison life, you will never know each and every day what you are walking in to, learning how to overcome situations that arise. I’m a panel beater by trade and this has really been an eye opener for me but with the support from prison staff, security courses, managers and staff, I now recognise problems before they arise and have learnt how to deal with sensitive situations professionally and amicably. This has made me a lot calmer person myself and I have learnt to think more clearly under pressure.

Meeting H.R.H Princess Anne was a complete honour, the whole event has made me think about how much I have achieved and learnt over the passed four and half years, and now giving me a boost to continue developing the course and keep teaching lively.

It has required a lot of dedication and control to gain a good working practice within the workshop. From the offset I had to ensure boundaries were laid down and learners were fully aware of what was expected of them with regards to acceptable behaviour within the workshop and towards each other. There could be no grey areas as we all had too much to lose. Once this was in place, and the programme began to get acknowledgement from outside the workshop, it was fairly simple to maintain. With the reputation of the course spreading, learners were more aware of what was expected of them when they first entered the programme and this made it easier to maintain the good practice. However, I am sure that this is an area which will constantly be changing and improving. Regular internal observations and reviews help me to identify areas that may need improving or re-evaluating as well as providing a fresh ‘pair of eyes’ to observe the goings on within the workshop and suggest changes for the better. The assistance, support and guidance from The Butler Trust has also provided me with a valuable insight in to how I can achieve good practice through my own actions and growth and this is something I have enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, putting in to place.

My role as tutor in the Motor Vehicle Body Workshop has been such an amazing adventure. I have met some interesting and diverse people, I have had the opportunity to share in learners’ success and see them grow in character and attitudes and I have had the opportunity to work on some rare and vintage vehicles. I have felt pride in seeing learners receive qualifications they never thought they could achieve and fulfilment upon hearing former learners now in employment. I don’t just teach learners, I am also learning myself, everyday, and have been rewarded with some fantastic experiences. I look forward to the future at Workshop 8.

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