Food for thought: how Wakefield men have helped their peers at dinnertime

Lindsay Battersby presenting at the PET Academic Symposium

Lindsay Battersby presenting at the PET Academic Symposium

As deputy education manager at HMP Wakefield, Lindsay Battersby puts community at the forefront of her work. In this blog, she sheds light on prisoner-led projects which are making a direct impact on everyday life at Wakefield.

Namkelekile Igama iam ngu Lindsay Battersby. Ndisuka e HMP Wakefield. Ndiyavuya ukunazi.

If you are confused by my introduction and my welcome to you, it is because you may be experiencing some of the feelings our low-level literacy learners feel when trying to engage in different activities in the prison. For low level-literacy and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) learners, written English often seems like another language.

If you were at the Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) Symposium in London in April you will have seen we began our presentation in the Khosa language to allow the delegates to experience how our learners with reading difficulties feel when selecting hot meals from the menu choices. We set up ‘Given the Choice’, the project at HMP Wakefield we were presenting on, to give these learners the chance to choose at meal times.

The difference with this research project is that it came from a mentor’s idea and was developed into a project supported by NOVUS Education. We developed a picture-based menu which was also colour-coded to give learners a visual choice of food. The images used for the food were chosen to give people a clear idea of what each dish was. The layout mimics that of the text-based menu but is also presented in weekly booklets for easy reference. This has allowed prisoners to have more choice and when the menu changes they can check what new dishes are available.

When we rolled out the new menu, we sent it to different areas around the prison including the library, medical waiting areas, as well as each wing and the Prisoner Information Desks. Alongside this, our mentors explained the purpose of the menus and answered any questions on the wing.

As a group we could see that this project had real benefits and actually helped people to have a choice. Because prisoners themselves led focus groups and research, and engaged staff and other prisoners, we had real information about what was needed and how the menus needed to be adapted.

The Given the Choice project is still being developed, but we entered the work completed so far into a national competition at the Chartered Institute of Education and won a Silver Award for Communication.

We then presented our work at the PET Symposium in April. The feedback we received was amazing and demonstrated the power of prisoner research. Many researchers commented on the way that the project had been developed and all the different areas involved. This would not have been possible without the involvement of prisoners who have the understanding of the prison system.

The project has since turned into a working Mentor Research Group, set up and managed by prisoners and a tutor. It takes place in their own community – the prison.

When we set up this research group the plan was to look at approaches led by mentors and key workers to improve learning and development in the prison. The idea behind this is that prisoners are the best people to carry out research with their peers because they understand the situation we are working in and have the best ideas when it comes to which approaches to take.

HMP Wakefield has always focused on community. From the minute you walk into the establishment you can see that this is embedded by Governor Dave Harding and acting Governor Andy Ripley. All members of staff meet with the governor and attend training in each area of the prison with many of the presentations delivered by prisoners, including staff inductions.

In a long-stay prison it is important that the idea of community is at the forefront of what we do. Being innovative and forward-thinking means involving all of those in the community and learning to understand the different parts of that community. The Mentor Research Group has shown that we can make a direct impact on everyday issues and come up with wide-reaching strategies to involve all.

We would hope to see the development of more groups such as this in the future. The project demonstrates whole community engagement in the menu process and shows the value of communities of practice.