Eleven remarkable people were honoured for their work in the probation services at the 2016 Butler Trust Award Ceremony. The Trust’s Royal Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, presided over the annual event, held at St. James’s Palace – ‘the Senior Palace of the Sovereign’ and which is not open to the public – in the heart of London.
The Butler Trust Awards are perhaps the most prestigious in the field. Around ten Awards and twenty Commendations and are given each year to both recognise and celebrate good practice by people working in prisons, probation, and community and youth justice, across the UK.
Last year saw the 30th Anniversary of the Trust, which was named in memory of the reforming Home Secretary R.A. ‘Rab’ Butler. Furthermore, although Patron or President of some 340 organisations, the Princess Royal has taken an active interest in the Butler Trust since its inception, and each year visits numerous Butler Trust winners at their place of work.
Additionally, a rigorous process is involved in whittling down the several hundred nominations made annually. It’s notable that many of these are made by, or include enthusiastic contributions from, offenders themselves.
Senior panels of experts from across the field in turn read and sift each nomination, produce and debate a shortlist, and then finally judge who will receive an Award or Commendation. Reaching these decisions is made more difficult due to the very high standard of outstanding people working in the sector – as this year’s winners attest…
At Kent, Surrey & Sussex CRC, the extraordinary Joanne Wood is described as “the mould for the perfect probation officer” while David Morris delivers “excellence from behind a desk”. Nigel Hosking of London CRC is recognised for “pioneering innovative probation practice now regarded as the ‘industry standard’”.
Dr Julie Carlisle and Sarah Kane of the National Probation Service Northwest are praised for developing the innovative Psychologically
Informed Consultation Service, supporting probation staff in the management and care of offenders with a personality disorder.
At Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset & Wiltshire CRC, Andrew Murray and Lisa Potter, together with Sue Smith of Swindon care provider SEQOL, have transformed approaches to autism. Meanwhile Andy Cereseto, a volunteer for the Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire & Rutland CRC, has helped turn around a drop in centre for vulnerable people. At Essex CRC, Diversity Officer Hannah Hunt has given “the Hannah treatment” to driving changes in policy and practice that have garnered praise from the renowned Stonewall charity, while Paul Brown has tackled housing for high-risk offenders with impressive gusto.
The importance of staff recognition – especially during a period of significant challenges and dramatic changes – simply cannot be overemphasised. Indeed, one Gallup survey suggested a lack of employee recognition was the number one reason for staff leaving their post.
The Butler Trust has pioneered this emphasis on recognising and celebrating the outstanding work people do across the sector. Their original focus was on prisons, but 2016 marks the 10th anniversary of its extension to include the probation service – and this year’s winners offer an impressive array of the width and depth of inspiring work in the sector.
Although each and every Butler Trust winner is worthy of a detailed article, space here is limited – but the Butler Trust website has extensive and detailed write-ups which can be found under ‘Our Winners’ in their ‘Annual Awards’ section.
This year one story among the probation service Butler Trust winners stuck out in particular as an exemplar of outstanding practice: it also helped that Joanne Wood’s nomination included a gripping tale of the power of cake-making – and cycling – to achieve that ‘breakthrough moment.’
Jo is based at the Crawley office of KSS CRC, and deals with “some of the toughest cases in probation – those who are under 25 or those with families, who are prolific persistent offenders”, explained her nominator, Shane Bruton of the Resettlement Team.
“She is the first to arrive at work and the last to leave and the one who sets the benchmark for everyone around her. She stands out, she’s looked up to, and she gets enviable results. Reoffending rates for PPOs in Crawley have reduced by about 20 per cent more than the national average – and I have no doubt that the reduction in crime is in no small part down to one person: Jo.”
Praising Jo’s “incredible empathy with her service users”, Shane explained that “she uses it time and again to make emotional connections which in turn lead to that breakthrough moment when she knows she’s completely won the trust of the service user and the real rehabilitation work can begin.”
Shane gave an example in which Jo connected over bike riding: “When the service user wanted a travel warrant one day, she cycled a 10-mile round-trip to deliver them to his door one evening. As she had predicted, they talked about her cycling gear and when she entrusted him with her bike and let him ride it around, he reported back to her that he’d never before ridden a bike he hadn’t first stolen.”
Another example of Jo’s “highly creative approach” is particularly affecting. In Shane’s words, again: “When one of her service users, who was newly out of prison and wanting to rebuild his relationship with the young mother of his baby, became anxious about an upcoming birthday present for his partner, Jo went around to his assisted accommodation one evening and together they baked a cake for her. Not only did he experience melting chocolate for the first time in his life, but he learned he didn’t have to steal a present for her. He also discovered that his partner – who was brought to tears when she saw the cake – was more impressed by the thoughtfulness and care he’d put into it than any stolen or bought present could have achieved.” They’ve since asked Jo to help them bake another cake – this time for their daughter’s first birthday.
Shane concluded Jo’s nomination by noting that “if I had committed an offence and was on probation, I wouldn’t want anyone but Jo looking after me because I know for certain she’d be in my corner, believing in my ability to change, fighting her heart out for me.”
Jo joined as a trainee and has now been in the job for 10 years and, says Suki Binning, Deputy Chief Executive at KSS CRC, “she lives to help her service users. She is the mainstay in their lives: their focal point for support; the one that understands them and believes in them; she’s their role model, and sometimes even – to all intents and purposes – their only family.” As Jo says, “I want them all to have the best future. I do believe in them. I believe they can change and that in itself helps to build their belief in themselves. Acknowledging their achievements enables them, so they can make changes and that opens the door to tackling the bigger offending issues.” Suki adds that “everyone should have a Jo in their office.”
Service users agree. “Jo goes out of her way to help, when other people wouldn’t care. She’s nice and just cares a lot,” said one. “I know she believes in me and that makes me feel good and it’s made me want to prove to others that I can and have changed. Jo also helps me think in different ways and do good things for my girlfriend and family and I’ve learnt a lot from her as well as got new skills. Jo can always just tell when something ain’t right, it’s like she’s got some magical power, she’s superhuman!”
In Jo’s own words: “I believe in my cases. I understand them as people – and I believe and know they can change. I build trust and I won’t give up on them – I’ll just keep going until I get that break-through. I always think about the bigger picture. I like to really explore what type of change is a genuine possibility. My cases are complex and I frequently have to use creative means to get to that all important break-through moment.”
Jo concludes by saying “If I had to write a formula for getting great results in probation, I’d say it was about the right balance between empathy and toughness, a thoroughness borne of innate curiosity, a belief in what’s possible and a commitment to not give up until that possibility has been reached. I’d like to disseminate this formula across my own CRC and then across probation in general.”
The full write-up of Joanne Wood’s award-winning work on the Butler Trust website runs to almost 3000 words – and her example, along with real case scenarios and feedback from chief executives to service users, could easily be used as training materials. As, indeed, could most of the stories behind each of this year’s probation service winners. From drugs to diversity, from autism to learning disabilities, and from management to reception, the winners shine a spotlight on the complexities and rewards of great probation work.
For decades The Butler Trust has celebrated & promoted work that all too often is unsung. For more than three decades the Trust has been celebrating and promoting the exceptional but all too often unsung work that happens every day in the UK’s prisons, probation service, and community and youth justice.
In that time the sector has witnessed enormous change, and a series of demanding challenges, but one consistent factor has consistently emerged: remarkable people doing life-changing work. Look around at your colleagues and consider those who have inspired you, or others, with their dedication, innovation, or leadership and influence that comes from doing their work extraordinarily well: the 2016-17 Butler Trust Award nominations open in May (you can sign up for a monthly or so email that will keep you informed of this and other news at the bottom of the Butler Trust website home page). The Butler Trust is also committed to promoting excellence as widely as possible: its sister website, good-practice.net offers a growing library of relevant expertise from across the sector, which can be explored by key topics.
The consistently impressive commitment of so many people working in the probation services is rarely reported. Yet every day, across the United Kingdom, people are delivering excellence where it counts: in the difficult and often troubled lives of service users. It’s complex, challenging, demanding work and, as this year’s as well as previous Butler Trust winners show, at its best, it’s work that’s full of amazing people and stories.