News and views

The Big Picture - September 2021

Ian Merrill
31 August 2021

Every month, our CEO Ian Merrill shares updates on Shannon Trust's work and future developments.

It has been a real privilege to meet many Shannon Trust volunteers in-person over the summer months, as pandemic restrictions have been eased. Many of our prisons are still playing ‘catch-up’ when it comes to restrictions, but we are all hopeful of being able to do more of our work over the rest of 2021. Those meetings with volunteers – alongside my conversations with staff, our alumni, trustees, HMPPS stakeholders and out funders – have been invaluable when it comes to thinking about the future strategy of Shannon Trust. I am really grateful for their time, questions, provocations and insights – much food for thought.

During those conversations we were able to explore a number of themes, centred around how Shannon Trust, under new leadership and with a renewed sense of purpose, can build on its previous good work, and emerge from the pandemic stronger and better-placed to deliver on its vision and mission. We talked about the landscape we are, and will be working in; the remaining high-levels of illiteracy amongst those in prison, governmental intentions to re-shape prison education, the likelihood of a growing prison population, less prison staff on-hand, and some of the challenges facing charities more generally, including competition for charitable funds, a need to adopt technology much more to reflect a changing society and the opportunity to be creative, bringing fresh ideas to our work.

So, there is much to consider in setting out a new strategy and I was heartened by the way our volunteers embraced this challenge; my sense is that many of us share an understanding that the world is changing and that we must adapt with that, to be relevant and effective in the future. Some of the debates about what to do and how were energetic and inspiring, and the challenge now is to shape our thinking into a coherent strategy. To that end, we will now work on that task during the autumn and I will come back with a further update in the near future. I will be recommending to our board that the thrust of our new strategy should be to preserve the core of our work, and take our reading programme to many more people in prison, whilst finding ways to extend that opportunity to those in and around the criminal justice system. Programme innovation will be important too, so testing new approaches should also be a key feature of Shannon Trust.