Career Development and Changing Lives
This blog was written by Nathan Sawford from Sodexo Justice Services and highlights the amazing work we do everyday to support rehabilitation.
At the age of 20, I was reasonably new to the world of work and hadn’t yet found my vocation in life. After undertaking several data entry and junior admin posts I was gifted with the opportunity to assume an administrative position at HMP & YOI Bronzefield, a privately operated (at the time by Kalyx) female prison.
My parents both worked hard to enable me and my siblings the best possible start to adult life, I come from a law abiding, working class family but did not reside in the most sought after of areas in London. I had witnessed first-hand some of the failings of the judicial system which consequently led me to develop a conflicting opinion of prisons and the criminal justice system as a whole. It was a difficult decision to make, however I decided that I would use this as an opportunity for me to challenge not only my own prejudices and preconceptions but also to help steer the way in which we rehabilitate the most vulnerable women in society.
I remember my first impressions of the prison vividly; an intimidating outer wall synonymous with most prisons, however this was juxtaposed with a rather welcoming reception desk that you would expect at a corporate facility. The building was reasonably new and you could tell great pride was taken in ensuring every window glistened and every crevice was cleaned. After a short wait I was greeted by the familiar face of my new line manager and taken into the prison grounds for an induction tour. I stood in amazement as floods of residents from all walks of life began their daily commute to education/employment through a process called “movement.” To this day I am still unsure as to what I was expecting to see as I walked through those gates; the women being frog marched in a comparable fashion to the Nazi concentration camps, living in squalor? Did I expect to see staff corruption and scenes similar to HMP Larkhalls Bad Girls or Wentworth prison? I continued to gaze in awe as the physical surroundings much more resembled a college/university campus than a high security prison. It was apparent that here at HMP & YOI Bronzefield, there was a clear and identifiable focus on education and rehabilitation; I knew at this point that this was a company that genuinely wanted to enhance the quality of life for its residents, I knew at this point, that this was an establishment where I could make a difference.
Fast forward three years and I am now a Resettlement Caseworker within the Integrated Offender Management unit. I’ve been gifted with another opportunity to contribute towards creating a safer tomorrow and working alongside some of the UK’s most vulnerable women. I’ve undertaken masses of training, both in house and externally and matured into a young man with purpose. Kalyx has now been renamed “Sodexo Justice Services” and I am discovering further characteristics and morals of the company I work for. It’s ethos of providing quality of life services and making a change for the better are values I can personally recognise and identify with. The role I am undertaking is often a thankless one due to the constant barriers to successfully resettling offenders. I am responsible for a caseload of approximately sixty residents, all with varying needs across the reducing reoffending pathways. I am charged with sourcing/maintaining accommodation for those nearing release, supporting all on my caseload with finance, benefit and debt queries, sign posting support for domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse, drug addiction, alcohol abuse and maintaining family ties. I often find myself wearing many “hats” as my duties as a caseworker also spill over into being a counsellor and an advisor. I have borne witness to some absolutely horrendous stories of physical and sexual violence against the women within our care which has further strengthened my beliefs that many of the women in prison today are victims of crime themselves. The strengthening of my emotional resilience tied in with a wealth of on the job experience has empowered me to believe that given the opportunity to do so, I could further develop into a well-rounded manager with Sodexo, enabling me to continue to positively impact on the residents in our care by developing the frontline staff of tomorrow. Being a caseworker taught me above all, empathy, understanding, trust and transparency are key factors to building lasting relationships.
The end of 2014 and early 2015 brought with it a new agenda, the ever dividing topic of how to reduce reoffending has been an age old argument, however the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda further strengthened the argument for Education and Employment opportunities paving the way forward. A new opportunity presented itself to me; the Resettlement & Community Links Coordinator role had been created in line with the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda and I was confident I could land the role. Painstakingly, I had to pass a CV and applications sift, sit a competency based interview and produce/deliver a thirty minute presentation. The recruitment process was enduring however it made the success of being appointed that much more worthwhile. And so the real work began! Initially I sought advice and feedback from colleagues and managers regarding my current skill set and where I would need to develop to take the role to where it needed to be. I planned, prepared and then set the wheels in motion. I attended networking events, facilitated business forums and travelled up and down the country visiting retail organisations as well as other prison establishments. I read and became well versed in prison policies and was rewarded in gaining a small team of two to directly line manage. The project to date has been a complete success. I am proud to say I have established a temporary release programme that has seen twelve residents over the last eighteen months undertake external placements whilst still serving a custodial sentence. Of the twelve residents, all were able to secure paid employment within three months of leaving custody and only one has since been received back into custody. I had a new found confidence as a project manager and more importantly as a leader.
After the reasonable successes of 2014 and 2015, I needed no further motivation to ensure I continued to develop with Sodexo; what had changed were the areas in which I needed to develop. Considering my initial motives for joining the organisation, I was now in a position to better shape how we reduced reoffending at a local level and knew that a pivotal part of this would depend on my ability to coach, engage and lead my direct reports. Thanks to the Senior Leadership Team at HMP YOI Bronzefield and in particular my manager at the time, Chris Purkess and HRBP Laura Wiles, I was given the opportunity to expand my knowledge in these specific areas by partaking in the “Transformers” programme.
The Transformers programme is a locally devised Talent Development Programme that is tailored and individualised for each of its participants. It is self-driven and allows its participants to set their own goals and develop at a pace that is suitable for them. This gave me the opportunity to take further responsibility of my own learning and progress as it helped me to identify clear gaps in my knowledge and map out a potential pathway for my own career development. The second quarter of 2015 brought with it many new and challenging opportunities. I undertook a 12 month internal secondment, an exciting opportunity to step up into the world of departmental management. I’ve always been quite willing to work out side of my comfort zone, as I find that this is where I am able take ownership of my own growth and learn more about myself as a person, as a manager and as a leader. The Employment and Activities Team Manager role sat within the Learning & Skills function, an area I had no previous experience in and I reported directly to the Head of Learning and Skills. In the short space of 14 months I had jumped from having direct line management responsibility of two members of staff, to being accountable for the management and growth of 16 colleagues across 4 departments.
I wouldn’t be telling you the truth if I said I wasn’t anxious and didn’t have any self-doubts about the transition, but the opportunity to step up was the big break I had been waiting for. With a catalogue of e-learning and coaching techniques in my arsenal, I was ready to embark on the next stop of my journey. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do it alone! I had a good working relationship with the new Head of Learning and Skills who understood my apprehensions and career goals, Tanvir Hynes supported me through regular and purposeful one to ones and coached me through departmental management. I had the on-going support of the Senior Leadership Team and benefitted from formal coaching sessions from our then Director, Charlotte Pattison-Rideout and our Head of Residence Joanne Desforges. As a result of the own going recognition and development I have been given, Myself and my team have been able to achieve some fantastic results over the last year. Thanks to the support of my colleagues I can look back over the last year and smile with pride. The role has been both demanding and challenging at times, however I can look back over the highs and lows and know that I gave my manager and my team my every exertion. The journey I have undertaken over the last 12 months would not have been possible without the on-going support of my Manager Tanvir Hynes and the tireless efforts of my team. I know that that the relationships I have built with these colleagues will last for many years to come.
As the month of May draws to and end as does my secondment. However the future looks bright and I am proud to say my efforts and successes have been recognised. As of the 1st of June I am due to start my permanent “Head of Department” role as the Through the Gate Manager. Again, I will need to build new relationships with staff, further expand upon my knowledge of the business and look to develop those around me. I am so thankful not only for the opportunities I have been given but for the patience and support that my colleagues at HMP & YOI Bronzefield have shown me over the years.
To all at HMP & YOI Bronzefield, quite simply, thank you.
If you are interested in a career within our Justice Services business, please visit our website www.sodexojobs.co.uk