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

STEVE WHITEHEAD & DAVID WILSON (HMP Hull)

STEVE WHITEHEAD & DAVID WILSON (HMP Hull)

AWARD WINNERS 2019-20: Steven and Dave are Horticultural Instructors at HMP Hull. They are given an Award for their extraordinary transformation of the environment and grounds in the prison, culminating in a Windlesham Trophy win, and their inspiring work in support of the education and rehabilitation of the men they employ.
[This Award is supported by Unilink. Steve and David also receive the POA Award for outstanding work by prison officers, supported by the Prison Officers Association.]

Steve and David are both Horticultural Instructors at HMP Hull. From a modest start, they have rapidly taken Hull’s environment and gardens to new heights, including winning the prestigious Windlesham Trophy – the annual competition run by the Ministry of Justice and the Royal Horticultural Society. They have also demonstrated a real commitment to, and success at, sharing their work widely through community engagement, partnerships, and wider media.

Initial nominator and HMP Hull’s Industries Manager, Thomas Leech, says “Dave and Steve quite simply (but with a significant amount of hard work, resilience and innovation) personify all that is good about our best staff working at HMP Hull.” Thomas adds that “Community engagement is an important part of their work and they are continuing their involvement with the Kew Gardens ‘Wild About Gardens’ scheme, which provides packets of wild flower seeds for us to transform areas into meadows.” Now in its third year, Thomas reports a case study in progress to examine “the positive impact of our wild life promotion on prisoners.”

Additionally, Thomas reports that Steve and Dave are using social media – they can be found on Twitter at @hull_gardens – “as a platform to interact with our wider community, spreading educational messages on the benefits of both gardening and wildlife promotion, and have successfully managed to link up with several pages whom have tens of thousands of followers, and these pages bought into the work they do within the prison, and regularly share our material to their massive audiences.”

Thomas concludes by noting “they seek to maximise the space available, are very creative with the space and resources we have, gain maximum involvement, go beyond the boundaries of our walls to get involved in community projects, and network brilliantly using modern platforms – education is their message!”

Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Business Assurance Mal Cameron says that:

“Dave and Steve have not only transformed the gardens and landscape within the prison walls to places of beauty and tranquillity but they have also helped to transform the lives of numerous prisoners.”

Mal adds that their ongoing work within the local community “is making headlines in not only the local press but the national press with articles in the Hull Daily Mail, The Times and regular features in the RHS monthly magazine.” Mal notes that:

“In just over 6 years the Gardens department is almost unrecognisable and the work that has been achieved by Dave and Steve is nothing short of staggering. The department has now almost doubled its size to 20 prisoners, all gaining horticulture qualifications and there are also prison peer mentors that help with everything from teaching prisoners to landscape designing. All the prisoners take pride in their work and the gardens department has become the job that all prisoners want.”

Prisoners are given ownership of their work and the prison gardens, and work together, says Mal, on numerous elements. These include creating “beautifully designed themed flowerbeds and displays, wild gardens with bee houses, bat boxes, bird tables and insect hotels. Hull also has a stunningly beautiful and tranquil memorial garden to commemorate staff that have sadly passed away. There are also poly tunnels and growing plots to grow vegetables not only for the prison kitchen and staff mess but also for the food banks in the City, therefore providing fresh organic produce for vulnerable people in our local community. In collaboration with a local caravan company the gardens worked with all the primary schools in Hull providing 150 bee houses and wild flower seeds to enable schools to set up wild gardens in schools.”

Their rapid success with the Windlesham Trophy award is impressive. The Trophy was set up in 1983 to develop prisoners’ sense of worth and encourage garden excellence within the prison community, explains Mal: “HMP Hull entered for the first time three years ago and came a close second in the best ‘newcomer’ category. In 2017, HMP Hull came 2nd overall missing top spot by one point and were the highest placed public sector prison. In 2018, HMP Hull won the Windlesham Trophy, and was recognised through a variety of media from the Royal Horticultural Society and Garden News Magazine to the Hull Daily Mail, and BBC Look North. This success is indicative of the level of commitment and determination both Steve and Dave have to the ongoing positive development of the gardens.”

Recently the Gardens Team rescued 36 former Battery Chickens, and plans are afoot to introduce Bee Hives. Furthermore, “to complement the work the Team do Steve and Dave provide formal qualifications in Horticulture, and will soon be providing training in Bee Keeping.” Mal says of Dave:

“Dave loves his job and takes pride in everything he does. He goes above and beyond to make sure HMP Hull’s gardens are of the highest standards and his enthusiasm rubs off on everyone he meets. The work he has done in the community providing bee hotels for primary schools in Hull has gained national press. Growing crops for not only the prison population but people in need in Hull via food banks is a great example of Dave painting the prison service in such a positive light. HMP Hull’s award-winning gardens are something that Dave and his prisoners pride themselves on.”

As Mal notes, “achieving all the success the department has in the last five years, alongside teaching a Level 1 horticulture qualification to all 20 prisoners in the group, with only two instructors is particularly impressive.” Mal added this about Steve:

“Steve has a fantastic rapport with his prisoners on his group and this relationship brings the best out of them. He leads by example and the high standards he sets are a marker for everyone working within his group. Teaching prisoners a qualification whilst taking on numerous internal and external projects can be extremely time consuming and demanding, but Steve [works hard] to make sure standards don’t slip and that the prison gardens are always looking impeccable. The external projects Steve has worked on have gained national publicity and painted the Prison Service in a positive light.”

In a testimonial, one offender at Hull, Dave*, writes powerfully about how with Steve and Dave’s help, being part of the gardening team helped him with self-harming:

“Dave and Steve have really helped me calm down since I started working on the gardens party. Before I started, I was a self-harmer and lost in myself, not knowing what life would lay ahead for me. When I started working for them, they gave me a sense of responsibility and meaning in myself again, at first, I was worried as I didn’t know much about gardening, but they were always really helpful with me, and had time for me when I was self-harming. This helped me to stop as I had something I really enjoyed to keep my mind occupied, and they would set me design tasks on a night to keep me busy during bang up, which were tough times for me. And now I have got an NVQ in gardening and am proud to be part of a successful team, and happier and more optimistic about my future, I cannot thank Dave and Steve enough for this.”

Libby Goodacre is a Regional Development Manager for Yorkshire Education Funding and Communities, and says “Dave and Steve’s drive to spread the benefits of horticulture beyond the walls is inspiring, and I hope they continue to carry on with these types of projects in the future.”

Hull’s Governor Tony Oliver says of Steve and Dave that “they have, quite literally, gone from growing ‘small acorns into mighty oaks’ and by that I mean our grounds, our growing capabilities and in developing the men in our care on their work party, including qualifications. They continue to utilise every spare piece of land within the prison and may visitors comment on how surprised they are to see so much green space within an old Victorian inner city local prison… their community engagement work is also second to none with significant links with local, regional and national business and agencies, not least the RHS, together with a very thriving Twitter community.”

Steven and Dave outline their work: “We have built up a team of 24 guys working on Gardens team at HMP Hull, for all of whom we link the work they perform into firstly an NVQ Level 1 in Practical Horticulture skills. This year we have expanded this to include the NVQ Level 2 course in the same subject. On top of this, we have made available the chance for our learners to have access to industry specialist distance-based learning courses, such as Level 3 garden design and the Level 2 British Beekeeping Association Theory Qualification.”

They explain that “all of this vocational training is linked to the team’s work, which has enabled us to create stunning gardens within HMP Hull, for both offenders and staff to enjoy, and this has helped us to gain success in various prestige gardening and environmental competitions.” This includes entering the Yorkshire in Bloom competition, which is part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Britain in Bloom. They won a Gold Standard Award, “an outstanding effort considering it was our first time in entering.”

Another interesting and worthwhile initiative led by Dave and Steve between 2017 and 2018 was a partnership with the RHS Outreach programme, “aiming to encourage child visitors to the establishment to garden at home, in particular growing fresh produce, as well as highlighting the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables, because Hull has some of the highest rates of childhood obesity and food poverty in the UK.” They created an area in the visits garden with “a feature garden, a mini growing allotment with a range of crops, and an eye-catching wild life garden, all of which had leaflets and information on how they could grow everything at home, packets of seeds and competitions to win insect hotels.”

Their projects don’t stop there, either. During the past two years the team has implemented environmental promotions including “the cessation of pesticide usage, linking in with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s ‘Peat Free’ gardening project, wildflower garden production in partnership with Kew Gardens’ “Grow Wild” project, bat promotion, attracting birds to our site (linking up with the Hull & East Yorkshire Swift Conservation Project) [and] rehoming ex commercial hens, which would have been slaughtered, onto our site.”

Steve explains their modest start and the enormous progress they have achieved:

“In the early days on the gardens team, both myself and Dave [had] no formal training or qualifications behind us, and only had 12 learners on our team at the time. We pushed to get extra training and development, which meant between 2013 to 2016 we both undertook weekly night classes doing NVQ level 2 & 3 horticulture courses, teacher training courses in the form of PTTLS, NVQ Assessors & Verifiers courses. We have successfully trained 61 learners to get qualifications, in the process gaining excellent reports in our annual external verifier inspections for our thorough practices, in addition to a glowing Ofsted report, which said HMP Hull’s instructor grades should use us as a benchmark of best practice to follow.”

Steve adds that, “as well as working with the 24 men on our own team, both myself and Dave also hold regular sessions with prisoners on the PIPE Unit (Psychologically Informed Planned Environment) and the GOOP project (Greener on the Outside for Prisons) a project ran by the University of Central Lancashire, and in our jail, the project is aimed for our residents which severe mental health issues, and we have created two gardens for the residents of these areas, so they can have access to gardening too, as it is great for their mental health and rehabilitation.”

A detailed account from Dave’s perspective can be found in this blogpost, where he quotes Dave* saying: “If I didn’t work on the gardens, I wouldn’t be here today”, while another offender Steve* (the names are a coincidence!), “who has spent the majority of his life in prison, offending in both his youth and as an adult” says:

“Working on the gardens has given me a sense of freedom, whilst at the same time giving me responsibilities that I haven’t had for a long time in my life.”

In words that apply surely not just to Steve Whitehead and David Wilson, but all those working in gardens behind walls:

“For me, this is what prison gardening is all about, seeing real change in people who have, on many occasions, had very troubled lives which caused them into the life of crime.”

* Names have been anonymised

 

With thanks to the HMP Hull, especially initial nominator and Industries Manager Thomas Leech, Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Business Assurance Mal Cameron, and Governor Tony Oliver, for their contributions.

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