One Page: When working together comes good

Ian Merrill
July 3, 2023

Welcome to 'One Page'. In this monthly newsletter, I will talk about the people I have met, and the things I have read or seen relating to Shannon Trust's vision, which is a future where everyone can experience the positive impact of learning. I hope these short pieces will start conversations, generate new ideas, and help our vision become a reality.

When working together comes good

One of the most rewarding things about my role is seeing ideas, hard work and individual contributions come together, especially when others benefit. I have been fortunate to experience this several times recently.


As part of our new strategy, Shannon Trust appointed prison facilitators at both HMP Channings Wood and HMP Bullingdon almost a year ago.


Our facilitators lead on the local delivery and development of our prison based peer learning programmes. This involves recruiting, training and inspiring mentors, and maximising opportunities for people in those prisons to learn to read and improve their maths. Our new colleagues took up the challenge, building relationships with prison staff, mentors and learners, and raising Shannon Trust’s profile in those prisons.


When His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons made an unannounced official visit to HMP Bullingdon last autumn, they reported how prison leaders had an ambitious strategy to encourage reading for pleasure, and improve the ability of non-readers.


This ambition underpins our collaboration. At the time, the inspectors reported a good number of trained Shannon Trust reading mentors, and 15 learners were taking their first steps in reading.


Earlier this year, I joined an event at HMP Bullingdon, where mentors, learners and their families came together to celebrate the progress those learners have made,and the impact it is having on them and those they’re close to.


More recently, I was delighted to attend the annual learner awards of Milton Keynes College (MKC), where a Shannon Trust mentor won ‘learner of the year’. This is a great tribute to our partnership with MKC, and the work of our local team members, Candida and Anne. The support of Dorothy Coober-Wood, Learning, Skills and Employment Manager, has been instrumental in developing the programme.


Stories like these show the human face of what we do. Reports and statistics are important, but they come to life in the changes to peoples’ day to day experiences and relationships, whether that’s reading letters from home or being able to follow prison menus and notices without having to ask for help.


Celebration events also give our mentors, prison facilitators and staff who have supported our work the chance to pause and reflect on what is achievable through cooperation and a common vision. Everyone’s contribution matters. This could be a new mentor learning to share their own abilities in reading and maths, which can be just as daunting the first time as starting to read. Or it could involve prison officers finding a regular quiet space for Shannon Trust study, or making sure learners and mentors are unlocked and get time together, away from their cells.


I have visited HMP Channings Wood recently too. I met a room full of brilliant mentors talking about our literacy and maths programmes, and I heard the positive experience of many learners. I also got to meet with Dave Crawford, the governor responsible for commissioning our work. Our local facilitator Dan, and volunteer Nigel, are clear about the real difference it makes having the prison on board with what we do. And the results speak for themselves, with us having tripled the number of learners per month.


I was also pleased to see our maths work at HMP Channings Wood feature in May’s ChalkDust magazine. It’s great to read how 2 of our learners feel more confident dealing with numbers and puzzles, enjoying something they found traumatic at school, and also how their Shannon Trust mentor has a sense of purpose and pride in what he is giving to others, even though he’d never seen himself in a ‘teacher’ role before.


At HMP Bullingdon and HMP Channings Wood, what we are seeing is the real benefit of having a dedicated Shannon Trust facilitator. Especially in strengthening working relationships and earning the support of the prison’s senior leadership.


I’ve spoken before about our partners in the prison service becoming advocates for Shannon Trust. This happens when they see how our programmes are changing the lives of the people in their care, increasing opportunities for prison work, opening a door to more education and ultimately reducing reoffending.


Our facilitators at HMP Bullingdon and HMP Channings Wood show what we can do to improve literacy and numeracy.


We know our mentors want to share learning with their peers; we know how many in the criminal justice system can benefit from Shannon Trust learning; and we knowhow prioritising these basic skills help individuals and communities by reducing reoffending.


HMP Bullingdon and HMP Channings Wood must take great credit for starting something significant. Because as of July 2023, HMPSS have now invested in Shannon Trust facilitators at more than 40 prisons.  


Please get in touch if anything I have written resonates with you; whether you agree, disagree or have a suggestion for how we can improve what we do.

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