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Dani is an experienced radio, newspaper and freelance journalist who also works in public relations and teaches journalism to people across the country.
May 31, 2024

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The prison revolutionising wellbeing for staff and prisoners

A high street of shops, a therapy dog, cancer awareness training, clamping down on viruses and menopause awareness training – one governor is taking a revolutionary approach to wellbeing for both staff and prisoners at their prison.

Mark Greenhaf has a vision for the wellbeing of his 400 staff and 782 prisoners at HMP YOI Stoke Heath and it is unlike anything seen across the rest of the UK.

A charity stall at HMP Stoke Heath YOI staff wellbeing event.

With an approach that lets prisoners lead on the rehabilitation initiatives they implement, Mark wants to create opportunities for prisoners to work with prisoners to create a healthier place for everyone.

“Where it goes wrong is when people can’t vent and talk about things”

Just one of his projects is to develop a ‘High Street’ of shops in the prison with a barbers’ shop run by those trained in cutting hair, a cafe run by the prisoners learning cookery, a charity shop where prisoners can donate things for others to buy or have for free and a repair shop which will be run by those who have skills such as textiles and fixing items like radios.

And Mark has a specific reason for creating the first prison High Street – it all comes back to his big plans for wellbeing.

“It’s about wellbeing for the whole prison, a community prison approach and an overall wellbeing strategy – we have to be good at looking after the people looking after the people as well,” he said.

“Many prisoners may have a complex background, therefore any help and support we can offer to help them deal with their problems is a good thing – where it goes wrong is when people can’t vent and talk about things and that leads to declining mental health and self-harm.

“If you look after the staff well I think they will be happy in work and happy to come to work – and that will be translated into looking after prisoners better, I want to make it the best possible place for staff to work.”

HMP Stoke Heath YOI staff hand money raised by a Crossfit challenge to Market Drayton Foodbank.

Some prisoners have been trained to become Health Awareness Champions (HAWCs) who implement health and nutrition training, test all newly arriving prisoners for Hepatitis C and have been trained by charity Lingen Davies Cancer Fund to become Cancer Champions – being equipped to start conversations and spot the signs and symptoms of cancer

“Prisoners themselves have done the testing for Hep C as part of their role as HAWCs and we are just weeks away from eliminating the virus from the prison now,” Mark added.

“A safe prison is where there is no violence, of course, but also knowing you’re living and working in an environment that is safe – that doesn’t have Hep C – is also a big thing.

“The Cancer Champions training has also had a big impact –  the majority of 782 prisoners at Stoke Heath have family and friends who are likely to be impacted by cancer in some way, probably while serving a sentence. We also have over 400 staff who will be similarly affected.

“It has already become apparent, through conversations already had, that so many people here are impacted by cancer – directly or indirectly.

“Since the scheme started, people are talking about cancer and feeling able to have a conversation about it in a safe space, being able to vent.”

“Forward thinking”

Miranda from Lingen Davies delivering Cancer Champions training at HMP Stoke Heath YOI.

So far four staff members and nine prisoners at the prison in Market Drayton, Shropshire, have been trained since the Cancer Champions scheme was introduced in April – and it’s hoped these numbers will both double in the coming months as well as prison chaplains becoming involved.

Miranda Ashwell, the LiveLife Cancer Awareness Lead at Lingen Davies, has been delivering the training at Stoke Heath prison as well as many other locations across the county.

The charity introduced the Cancer Champions scheme as a way to enable others to raise awareness about cancer and engage with their peers to break down taboos.

Miranda said: “It is great to see Stoke Heath so forward thinking with their enthusiasm to train staff and prisoners to be Cancer Champions.

“Cancer can affect anyone and the more people who have someone to talk to or know where to get the help and support they need, the better their lives will be while affected by cancer.”

Other schemes to aid wellbeing for staff include a women in the workplace training scheme,  menopause awareness scheme and a staff wellbeing day with stalls from various organisations which signpost help when needed.

Staff are also having their pet dogs assessed to see if they can become Pets As Therapy dogs, when they could be taken into work and prisoners could be referred to them for rehabilitation.

A sense of peace “drives wellbeing” 

HMP Stoke Heath YOI Parkrun for charity.

For prisoners, other initiatives include a reading strategy and Stoke Heath is one of only 18 prisons that has in-cell laptops – which Mark said greatly boosts wellbeing and allows access to even more support when needed, such as follow up videos from Lingen Davies.

In fact, Stoke Heath has named Lingen Davies as their charity of the year for 2024 and has already raised almost £1,000 from a staff versus prisoners football tournament – where most donations were raised by the prisoners – and held a ParkRun with a local running club.

It is not the first time Mark has made his mark on benefiting the wellbeing of the prison he governs.

Before moving to Stoke Heath nine months ago, he was the governor of Swinfen Hall Prison in Lichfield where he featured in a Channel 4 documentary about his efforts with a Keep the Peace scheme. 

“Peace is a huge factor in driving wellbeing in a prison,” he said.

“Wherever I am, I want to make sure my staff and the prisoners are not only safe, but well. 

“This benefits everyone as a prison is not like other institutions but I feel wellbeing needs to be prioritised there just as much – if not more – than other locations and workplaces across the country to ensure everyone there has a positive experience to enable rehabilitation to happen and transform the prison system going forward.

“So much more can be done across the country and I hope we become a blueprint for just what you can achieve and what atmosphere you can create.”

A guide for managers: Supporting employee wellbeing

This guide, written by Heather Beach, Founder of The Healthy Work Company, serves as a go-to resource to help managers support team members who may be experiencing stress or struggling with their mental health, including warning signs, duty of care and top tips.

Wellbeing Conversations for Managers

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