A day in the life of a Prison Workshop Instructor

by Andy Tawn, HMP Risley

I usually arrive early for my shift so I can start the day with a brew - it has to be Tetley tea bags! This is my best chance to get a brew, it gets pretty busy once the day really starts. I have a quick walk around Chains workshop floor to ensure that all the tools are correct and that every learner has some work to do.

I will then plan my sessions on what needs to be done that day.

I receive a call over the radio to let me know that the Learners are on the way. I always refer to the men in the workshop as Learners. We are dealing with human beings and if you want respect you have to give it “Treat people the way you would like to be treated”.

Yes they are prisoners but they are still human and it can be rewarding when you have made a person think differently on life and his future.

Our job is to rehabilitate prisoners in a difficult environment. We are here to try and change a prisoner’s way of thinking and also try to prepare for the outside world. We try to prepare learners for the job market and keep them away from temptation upon release so that they are able to look after themselves and budget.

A quick hello as they come through the door and inform them of any changes to yesterday’s sessions.

Our main priority is Margaret Carey Foundation but to help fund the new parts we use we do bike services for staff. As these require a quick turnaround these are then prioritised. It's a really useful experience for the learners to have some practical experience of working to a deadline. It is a useful skill that will definitely help them in any future employment when they are released.

We also do some other work for other charities so I have to plan in order to keep everyone happy but also control the workflow.

The MCF workshop at Risley is a buzzing atmosphere as the learners work in teams and help each other. No rest for me as I'm collating all parts needed, brake cables brake blocks etc.

I have built up quite an extensive secondhand parts store and often find myself in there at the beginning of the sessions.

A quick walk around to ensure everyone is ok and then about 20 mins paperwork (we are working in a prison environment so there is always essential paperwork to do) and chase up any learners who have not attended - this bit is easy as I don’t have any refusers unless genuine reasons, Health care etc.

Workshops will always have refusers as some learners are hard to motivate. However there is normally a valid reason for a learner not attending. Workshops vary from one to another, the MCF Workshop is successful as it teaches learners new skills, it’s interesting and there is an opportunity for employment once the skills have been adapted.

All workshops offer different types of skills from Plumbing to art. Its finding the skills that learners need that is difficult as places are limited.

Back onto the shop floor and assisting any learners who are struggling and a quick chat on any issues they may currently have. This could be anything from visits to getting hold of offender manager workers, ensuring that they have all they need prior to release, e.g.: Have they seen Shelter? Do they need an appointment with the Job Centre? Do they have suitable accommodation for release? We have a reward scheme for learners who are following the regime and also expanding on their learning. Eg: we have an in house Certificate (MCF Award) and also we run some other courses in our workshops. If a learner shows good progress and is willing to help others he will more often be rewarded in the way of a bonus or a promotion in the workshop. Many learners get approx. £10.30 a week if they follow the regime and go the extra mile they may be rewarded and receive an additional £2.

A learner can also have sanctions should he not want to work or engage with what is required.

There is a great atmosphere in the workshop created by the learners and their motivation. The ability to show others what to do and learn from each other, the chance that they can talk to each other whilst carrying out their work. It's a relaxed, not pressured environment and a learner can go at his own pace.

I have appointed a Redband to assist me with my daily running of the workshop. A Redband is a trusted prisoner who is allowed outside access to certain areas, in our case it’s our bike store which is situated outside the workshop.

My Redband also issues tool keys to the learners’ tool cupboards as we have tool cupboards by the workbenches and assists with any repairs or problems learners may have.

I also have a Number 1 who is a prisoner who has exceeded in training and appointed to help others.

Without the support of my Redband and also appointed Number 1 I would be run off my feet so these guys are a big help.

Before you know it it’s time to pack away, all tools and materials are put away and tools checked and reported ok.

A quick search of learners before they leave and a sigh of relief as they walk out of the door for lunch - it has been a busy morning!

After lunch it all starts again for the afternoon session. Most of the group in the workshop is the same as in the morning with only a couple of different learners, some do part time education- English, Maths and IT. We have many facilities here that we can accommodate a learner's needs and try to get the best out of the person.

The workshop is really busy and although we have an established routine, no two days are the same. I really enjoy my job and feel like I am making a real difference to the lives of others.