A visit to HMP Wormwood Scrubs

Amy Longstaff
March 27, 2024

I had the pleasure of attending HMP Wormwood Scrubs recently, alongside photographer Andy Aitchison. The primary reason for this visit was to get some photographs of learners and mentors in action, so Shannon Trust could update our images to include our current branding.

I had such a fantastic experience that I wanted to share it.

I can’t start without saying that this would not have been possible without Shannon Trust Programme Manager Ella Magal. She helped organise everything on the day and made sure it ran so smoothly. Lisa Metcalfe, Learning and Skills Manager and Lesa Hart, Head of Education Skills and Work also helped us make sure everything was in place for the day. All of the staff we met at HMP Wormwood Scrubs were so helpful and welcoming.

As we arrived at approximately 8.30am, I was expecting for us to go around and gather up the mentors and learners who had consented to take part in the photography. Little did I know, we’d walk in to them waiting for us. The mentor coordinators had taken it upon themselves to gather everyone, so they were ready and we could make the most of the time we had.

We went to different places within the prison where learning might take place – on the wings and the book room, for example. We also visited the library, the employment hub and the textile workshop. The mentors and learners gave us great insight into their day-to-day experience of the Shannon Trust programme. They even helped us direct some of the shots.

One mentor, J, shared with me his reasons for getting involved with Shannon Trust. He told me that his mum couldn’t read or write. When he was younger, he used to take out library books. Sometimes, he got so many out that he reached the limit, and had to smuggle extra out. He used those library books to sit with his mum and help her read them. He also helped her to write a CV and she secured a job in healthcare. He sees the value in what Shannon Trust does, and stressed how important it is for people to be able to read. He wants to continue to help Shannon Trust when he’s released.

J wasn’t the only one sharing his praise for Shannon Trust. Many of the mentors and learners thanked us, and said how much the programme has changed their lives. Mentors remarked that it was something useful for them to do with their time, and learners were able to move onto other educational courses and secure jobs. They felt more positive about their future.

One thing which struck me, is how Shannon Trust is integrated throughout the prison at key points in a person in prisons' journey, so they can be offered support at every opportunity.

We met a Shannon Trust representative who works on reception. He told us that he often notices when people can’t speak English, or don’t understand written information like their canteen sheet. He speaks to them about Shannon Trust, makes a note of who they are, and passes that onto the Shannon Trust staff member.

When people first come in to prison, there is a mentor based where they stay for their first night, to encourage people who need support to start learning with Shannon Trust. Shannon Trust posters were visible all over the prison, and when I asked the mentors if they were noticed and useful, the feedback I got is that they often saw people looking at them.

Later, we spoke with a learner who had gone through all 5 Turning Pages manuals in 3 months. Staff told me he had shown a huge dedication to his learning. He and his mentor told me they also work on things outside of the manuals, like conversational phrases and vocabulary which might be less common, as this learner was an English Speaker of Other Languages (ESOL) learner. This is just one example of the many ways that Shannon Trust mentors go above and beyond the established learning programme, and provide support in a way that best meets the learners’ needs. I know this happens across the whole prison estate.

I also learned that mentors who speak other languages have been proactively helping people who come into prison and don’t speak English to settle into prison life. They encourage them to seek help from Shannon Trust.

I can’t stress enough how fantastic the mentor team is at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. When tasked with finding some more mentors from a list of suitable candidates, the mentor team went above and beyond. They asked the candidates to submit 2 page cover letters and conducted competency-based interviews with them. They wanted to be sure these prospective mentors were serious about the role. The mentor team also knew that asking for a cover letter and conducting an interview helped people develop important skills. It was so inspiring to see the dedication and pride the mentor team have in their work – it’s no wonder HMP Wormwood Scrubs consistently reports record numbers of learners.

I don’t know what the future holds for the people I met. But, from meeting them and seeing how professional and dedicated they all were, I’m optimistic. We often think of prisons as being a depressing and intimidating place, but it was genuinely a joy and privilege to see the great work going on at HMP Wormwood Scrubs.

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