Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2018-19: Valerie was a voluntary Community Panel Member with the Lincolnshire Youth Offending Service. She is granted a Commendation for the contribution she made to many hundreds of young lives, through the outstanding dedication, empathy and compassion she brought to her role.
Sadly, Valerie died in August 2018. As per the wishes of her colleagues and family, her nomination remained eligible to go forward and to be treated in the same way as any other. Valerie’s son, Darren, accepted her Commendation on her behalf at the Ceremony.
Valerie’s Initial Nominator, Local Butler Trust Champion, and Lincolnshire Youth Offending Service (YOS) Victim Liaison Officer, Christian Barrett, wrote a powerful original nomination, quoted here at length, which conveys something of Valerie’s remarkable spirit:
‘I have no doubt whatsoever that every single member of Lincolnshire Youth Offending Service and indeed hundreds upon hundreds of young persons who have passed through our doors, would happily have travelled the length of the country to trade places with me to write this nomination.
‘Val has a hugely compassionate heart and is not just interested in hearing about the lives of those around her but also genuinely cares for their happiness and wellbeing. With every meeting with Val, she exudes warmth, interest, compassion and an innate good nature.
‘When Val’s name is mentioned to work colleagues regarding work matters, you will instantly see a very broad smile spread across the member of staff’s face. It is something of a cliché to say that when a person walks into a room they ‘light it up’, but this is genuinely the case with Val. A room with Val in it, is a room filled with kindness and compassion and a room in which those within know they are valued.’
Christian went on to say that Val ‘is blessed with a level of empathy that allows her to genuinely enjoy interactions and conversations with all persons, no matter how humble or dispossessed,’ and then tries to outline her impact:
‘It would be impossible to guess the number of young lives that Val has helped ‘turn around’ over the thirteen years that she has been an unpaid volunteer. If we take a society-wide view, we can say with utter conviction that through turning around the lives of hundreds of youths who had been immersed with criminal behaviour, we can extrapolate that the potential numerous criminal acts that never occurred (through Val’s intervention) must number in the thousands. Thousands of crimes that never occurred, thousands of individuals that were spared ever becoming victims. Val has spent thousands of hours of her own time, unpaid, changing the lives of young persons who had previously been engaged in criminal behaviour and it is a fact that our society is a far better place for her dedicated work over so many years.’
As Christian notes, many of these young offenders ‘have chaotic and deeply troubled home lives and in a large percentage of cases these young persons may have complex and specific learning needs such as autism.’
Being a Community Panel Member in Lincolnshire brought its own challenges, Christian says. Lincolnshire is ‘a vast county that incorporates hundreds of square miles of agricultural land, I know from my own role in the Youth Offending Service that driving fifty miles of an evening, in the winter darkness, with pouring rain or snow laying on the ground, making your way down B roads and country tracks to get to your destination is not a pleasant task, but Val undertakes such travel the length and breadth of this huge county, in the early hours or late, in the light or darkness, in the rain or the snow, without making complaint, with her ever-present happy, supportive and empathetic demeanor.’
Many colleagues offered their own testimonials. YOT Officer Adam Butler wrote that Valerie ‘is a lady of great integrity and has many outstanding qualities. She is as genuine a person as I have ever met; caring, compassionate and empathetic to both young people, families and professional colleagues.’ Another YOT Officer, Harriet Wilkinson, added that ‘Val has consistently shown great warmth and empathy towards the young people that she works with and it is always a pleasure to work alongside her in a panel meeting.’ While Victim Liaison Officer Clare Evans said, ‘Although we work with serious offences, when required Val can be good fun and can get even the less communicative young people to respond and engage.’ Meanwhile Tania Knight, also a YOT Officer, says Valerie ‘never dwells on what they’ve done but focuses on how they can turn it around and have a bright future. I have also heard lots of positive feedback from our young people mainly in the form of ‘who will be at this next meeting? Will it be that nice lady?’’
Andy Cook, Head of Service for Lincolnshire YOS, explains that:
‘Val has provided outstanding and unswerving commitment with many years of dedicated service which has always been underpinned with seeking the very best outcomes for children and young people in Lincolnshire. Val is held in the very highest regard by the professionals she works with which reflects her calmness, objectivity, ability to engage’ and called her ‘a benchmark of best practice for all of our panel members to strive towards.’
After her death, Christian added some further testimony:
‘Val was driven to help others, no matter how dispossessed they were, no matter how chaotic their lives, no matter how challenging they might be. Val’s gift was her vast compassion, the ability to fill a room with light purely by entering it and her genuine interest in the achievements (no matter how large or how humble) of others. This gift enabled her to turn around the lives of countless young offenders over her 13 years with our service, a gift that she continued to give right up to and including the week that she died. Val did not stop bestowing her gift, despite failing health.’
In light of this, it is unsurprising to learn that, in addition to family and friends, an enormous number of colleagues came from far and wide to attend Valerie’s funeral.