TRACEY SARGEANT (HMP/YOI Drake Hall)
AWARD WINNER 2022-23: Tracey is granted an Award for her outstanding vision, personal courage, and unwavering resolve in raising awareness, and transforming attitudes, about the menopause among prisoners and staff at HMP/YOI Drake Hall; with the impact of her work now being felt right across the Service.
[Her Award is supported by The Hanley Trust.]
It’s unusual to receive an initial nomination from a busy prison Governor. But in Tracey’s case, Carl Hardwick OBE, HMP/YOI Drake Hall’s Governor, gave a detailed and effusive nomination that’s worth reproducing in full:
‘It is not often that a brave conversation changes the culture and direction of policies in an organisation, but this is what has been achieved by Tracey Sargeant. What is remarkable is the involvement, resolve and determination Tracey has shown in driving the awareness of the menopause amongst peers, managers and prisoners.’
‘Tracey came to me, a male middle-aged Governor, and bravely told me her story and how challenging the menopause was making her life, including her working life. This was the catalyst conversation that resulted in me challenging myself on the way I lead the establishment. With the authority then to upset the apple cart, Tracey began to lead her campaign of change within the establishment.
‘She began by creating a link with our Healthcare Manager and engaging Dr Ben Sinclair, a nationally acknowledged expert on the menopause, who came to the establishment and held awareness sessions with all of the Senior Manager Team and middle managers. This opened up conversations, changed attitudes and behaviours, and had a particularly powerful effect on some of our male managers who have now become male allies. With managers trained, greater understanding permeated the establishment and Tracey set about the next phase.
‘Tracey formed support groups for both staff and prisoners, of which 4 sessions have now been facilitated, and have been gratefully received. These encouraged an honest open approach with group members sharing experiences and tips on overcoming or working with symptoms. NHS England funded ‘goody bags’ for both staff and women, and several books have also been purchased for both staff and women to borrow and learn more about the menopause.
‘Tracey is now arranging acupuncture and hypnotherapy at the next sessions. Since the implementation of the groups, staff are reporting a complete shift in attitudes, and are now more confident to report symptoms to their GP. HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) has been demystified, and most are now receiving HRT, and in some cases this has replaced anti-depressants. This will lead to better retention, fitness and more energy to carry out their roles.
‘Healthcare are also seeing a rise in the number of women receiving HRT, and we are continuing to monitor the effect of the menopause on prisoner violence and inappropriate behaviour, and manage this in a menopause sensitive way. Both groups are also reporting that they are able to talk more freely about the menopause and that male staff have become much more aware and understanding.
‘With the momentum gained at a local level, Tracey contacted Davina McCall, who responded by visiting Drake Hall and featured her efforts in a focus piece for the ‘Sex, Mind and the Menopause’ documentary on Channel 4. This showcased the struggles of an officer working in a taxing environment through the menopause and the work that has been done to help her through her own menopausal journey.
‘Tracey’s work locally has led to work with national leads in devising a new scenario-based fitness test for staff that is more suitable for women going through the menopause. Whilst this is still in its infancy, I have no doubt that it will have a huge impact in retaining staff and reducing anxiety.’
Butler Trust Local Champion and Head of Business Assurance at HMP/YOI Drake Hall Rebecca Wyatt shares further testimonials. One officer wanted to talk about how Tracey ‘helped me throughout the past year regarding the menopause’, and that through her menopause meetings:
‘Tracey made me realise that I needed to go and talk to my GP due to not being prescribed the correct medication for the menopause. Tracey helped me to gain my confidence so that I could speak to the producers of the Channel Four Davina documentary which was aired in May. I can honestly say that I do not think I could have done this without Tracey’s support. Tracey also continues to support myself and other members of staff who are struggling with the menopause.’
Drake Hall’s Managing Chaplain says:
‘Tracey has been an invaluable support as I have navigated a horrific period of my life that has the menopause at its roots. She was a safe space. She gave me a listening ear and time. She made it comfortable for me to be able to talk about how I was feeling, openly and honestly, without judgement or fear of reprisal. She was a shoulder to cry on and helped to identify and navigate through the support that was available to me, including HRT. Without her I’m not sure that I would have joined the dots to know what was going on in my body, and I would certainly no longer be in work.’
The Chaplain concludes by praising ‘the courage that Tracey has shown in opening up discussion, making it safe to talk, and helping people to get help has brought relief and hope to many.’
Tracey’s work ‘has clearly made an exceptional impact,’ adds Carl, ‘not just at Drake Hall, but the waves are now beginning to truly be felt in the wider prison service. As I have outlined in my nomination, I firmly believe her to be a worthy winner.’
Tracey, whose current role is as a Prison Expansion Project Lead, recalls joining the Prison Service ‘because I wanted to help people’, and while noting that in the last 25 years she has been able to help many individuals, ‘never have I been involved in a project that has had such an impact on so many.’ She recalls approaching the Governor to tell him ‘about the difficulties of living with the many symptoms of the menopause; the denial, the lack of confidence, memory loss, lack of sleep, just to name a few.’
Her strategic approach to invite a male GP and expert, she says, was an intentional one ‘to engage our male managers because without their support and understanding, we would never be able to affect change.’ The session ‘immediately changed mindsets and started conversations.’ Conversations that followed support groups ‘have been truly personal, moving and most importantly supportive’, she adds, and staff ‘now know that they have a network of people that are going through a similar journey to themselves, they are learning from each other and openly talking about their difficulties.’
A further strategy is to make sure it is not a ‘flash in the pan’ and that we continue to develop and evolve, says Tracey, adding:
‘the prisoner groups have grown in size and I was recently blown away by the attendance of 49 women who wanted to learn and support each other through menopause. I have never spoken to such an audience that appeared to hang off my every word, it was truly moving.’
Tracey’s work continues, she says, and she is now working with colleagues from the gymnasium ‘who have devised a scenario-based fitness test which reduces anxiety, takes into consideration our aging workforce and should help with retention of staff.’ And she is now taking it to a much wider level:
‘We have worked with colleagues at other establishments as part of the pilot, receiving excellent feedback from those who have undertaken the test, as well as their managers. We have met with the national testing team to try to feed into the national review as well as gaining the support and backing of the Director of women. What we are trying to deliver is being discussed at the highest level and we are influencing policy. I continue to work with other establishments and the SWIM (Supporting the Workplace In Menopause) network, delivering presentations about the work being delivered at Drake Hall. My next step is a presentation for World Menopause Day in October.’
Tracey’s truly remarkable work will clearly continue to connect with people in small and large ways that matter – and that make a real difference.