Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2020-21: Tracey Varela is a Group HR Business Partner at HMP Kirkham, but receives a Commendation for her outstanding work in another role, as a key driver of Kirkham’s rehabilitation culture, bringing passion and imagination to events that have hugely positive benefits on the lives of both prisoners and staff.
Karen Phillips, People Hub Manager and Initial Nominator, calls Tracey “one of the most conscientious, hardworking, compassionate people I have ever had the pleasure to work with… her drive, resilience and passion engages people with the day-to-day challenges in the workplace. She is also the sounding board seeing things for both sides. Tracey is involved in everything from ‘bake-off’ charity challenges and fantastic inclusive well-being days, to climbing the 3 peaks to raise awareness for mental health.”
Karen outlines just a few of Tracey’s remarkable contributions, starting with driving the rehabilitation culture at Kirkham: “through her determination to make every event and interaction as impactful as possible, she has changed people’s views and attitudes towards reducing re-offending to a point that it is now embedded and evident in all areas of the prison.”
Relatedly, says Karen, Tracey’s lead “in the most innovative fashion for World Cancer Day massively increased understanding of many different forms of cancer with both staff and prisoner residents.”
Tracey also led the HMP Kirkham team through a very successful ‘Time to Talk Day’ which resulted in “over 300 pledges from prisoner residents to firstly identify triggers and then support other men with mental health concerns. A real legacy for all concerned.”
Tracey also chaired Kirkham’s Well-Being Day Committee and helped organise “the most inclusive day of the year, which saw impact for staff, prisoner residents and their families, as well as raising £1800 for local charitable causes.”
Karen adds that “Tracey’s door is always open to anyone, be it work related or personal, she is a reliable confidant when things are tough, always respecting others and their emotional problems.”
Andrew Richardson, Regional Employment Broker and Butler Trust Local Champion, shares further testimonials. Sarah Wilding, Cumbria & Lancashire Group HR Admin, notes Tracey’s involvement “with many local charity events, helping to raise money and awareness of putting an end to the mental health stigma,” while Imogen Holt at Kirkham adds that “Tracey has continued to support the staff and their families devising numerous activities including a competition for staff’s children during Easter”.
Colleague Jon Ingram says “Tracey is dedicated and goes the extra mile for all members of staff and residents,” and another colleague, Louise Elliott, adds that “It’s not just enthusiasm that sticks in the mind with Tracey but also the professional way in which she consistently carries out her role. You can guarantee Tracey will go over and above the call of duty in whatever task she undertakes!”
‘Paul’, a Kirkham resident, says “the Well-Being day saw greater interaction between staff and residents and helped break down existing barriers. Efforts such as this cannot be ignored and the ingenuity with which the day was organised must be recognised”.
Meanwhile Derek Harrison, Kirkham’s Governor, calls Tracey “a rock of support to me and the team at Kirkham.”
Andrew says that Tracey “is one of those rare individuals that people turn to when an opportunity arises, safe in the knowledge that it will not only be grasped but fully exploited. Tracey has an ability to take an idea or project and excite those around her into committing their own time and efforts to deliver not only a successful outcome but usually the very best example,” and adds that “her leadership is absolutely inclusive. Tracey manages through influence, not authority, whether working with staff or the men in custody at HMP Kirkham.”
Among many examples of her work, he cites an interesting approach Tracey developed to volunteer days through working with the local RSPCA branch which involved taking groups of prisoners and staff to their kennels to work with the animals for a day, walk dogs, clean and care for the animals. “This recognised therapeutic approach was a joint enterprise between officers and men and therefore also supported a stronger staff/prisoner resident relationship,” says Andrew. Tracey herself adds that “As an open prison with prisoners on day release, I was keen to involve both staff and prisoners and give back to the local community. Working with the local RSPCA, over the last two years approximately 60 staff and prisoners have taken part in volunteer days. As well as being an opportunity to build links with the community it has also been an opportunity to build positive relationships between staff and prisoners outside of a custodial setting.”
Andrew concludes that “it is easy to forget that Tracey also has a very busy and challenging day job as Group HR Business Partner. Tracey is a caring and inspirational colleague who is full of energy and positivity…a truly remarkable and inspirational colleague.”
Governor Derek Harrison adds that while Tracey is an excellent Human Resources Business Partner, “she brings so much more to our workforce and prisoner residents at HMP Kirkham. Tracey has been instrumental in establishing a joint staff and resident health and wellbeing committee, which has provided frequent health promotion awareness events, with the highlight of the year being a Wellbeing and Rehabilitative Culture Day at which Tracey was responsible for bringing in over 20 partnership organisations to promote health and wellbeing.” He notes, too, that Tracey “has a passion for raising mental health awareness, and her work on supporting the Our Blue Light charity has again brought the workforce together. Tracey has also worked tirelessly on tackling mental health stigma, including organising staff and prisoner resident workshops with guest speakers.” He concludes by saying that “Tracey’s work has been invaluable for the wellbeing of all those who work and live in Kirkham and reinforced our rehabilitative culture.”
Tracey herself says that she “takes great pride and satisfaction” in her work, and “feels privileged to support those in need”.