By Sebastian Wells, Data & Research Officer
Recently, myself and fellow External Engagement team member, Andrea, took a trip to Wolverhampton to visit HMP Featherstone. After getting off the train it was just a short taxi ride to the prison gates, where we were welcomed by Fiona Stebbing, Operations Lead for Nacro’s education delivery at the prison.
After getting our I.D. cards and being let into the prison by the gate staff, we were taken to the education delivery office through a labyrinth of corridors and heavy iron gates. Here we met the horticulture teacher, Matt, as well as other education staff, with whom we had a nice lunch.
After lunch, Fiona took us on a tour of the different wings – as all the prisoners were in their cells, it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. We saw the well-equipped gym and library, and also the medical ward, which looked just like a GP’s surgery. Following this we went to the carpentry and mechanics department, where we met a group of service users who were soon going to finish their Level 1 mechanics course.
They had tons of praise for Nacro’s education delivery, with multiple men saying that Paul, the Motor Vehicle Tutor, was the best teacher they had ever had. They told us how he really puts in the extra effort to help everyone get through the course, no matter their particular needs. Paul even translated the entire course into Bosnian to help one service user whose written English was limited, and because of this help he managed to pass the course with flying colours.
But beyond the curriculum, Paul has overseen conversations on many wider topics, including religion, race, philosophy, and British values, and it’s clear that the positive impact of his lessons goes beyond qualifications. One person wrote a rap about motor mechanics which he then got to perform in front of everyone, describing it as “a proud moment.” Another designed the front cover for the next group’s course book, and says he is ‘finding himself’ more since he has been in prison. His creation of the cover design is going to be a recurring thing. Someone else says, “when I come down here it’s like I have escaped from the rest of the prison.”
When asked about what they would say to the government, responses ranged from more time out of cells and more choice in education, to replacing short sentences with community alternatives and removing the stigma of a criminal record so more employers take on people with prior convictions.
They added that there is a need for further Level 2 courses to help find employment on the outside. Staff also reported more needs to be done to make sure people are ready for work when they leave prison – they want to see customer service, business skills, and health and safety being taught among other things to ensure that people are work-ready when they leave.
After bidding farewell to Paul and the service users, Stewart Hopgood, the Motor Vehicle Lead Tutor, took us on a tour of the carpentry and bricklaying teaching areas. Here we met Jagmeet Singh, the Carpentry Tutor, saw the metal works and the painting area, before finally getting a tour of the horticulture facilities – which included seeing the prison’s pet chickens – a great end to an interesting day.
It was an impressive visit and great to see the quality of the facilities and the enthusiasm of Nacro’s education staff. It is clear there is a really passion from staff at Featherstone and the service users really value their efforts.
We want to extend a massive thank you very much to Fiona and Stewart for showing us around, as well as to Paul and his students, and all the other education staff, for taking the time to talk to us. It was a fantastic day out and we hope to be back again soon!