November 13, 2023

Insights from Insights23: Stepping through history at No.10 Downing Street  

Nic Bellamy
Head of Insights Engagement
Insights Group, Strategy, Planning & Performance Directorate, HMPPS

We were fortunate to have a number of exclusive events available to staff at the Insights Festival this year, including an exciting opportunity to meet with Sarah Barrett, Private Secretary to the Prime Minister on Home Affairs, at No.10 Downing Street! 11 lucky members of staff were selected at random from over 700 requests and had the opportunity to hear about Sarah’s career journey, ask questions about what it is like to work at the most famous house in Britain, and enjoy a tour of the house and gardens. 

Mitchell Long, Regional Prison Support Lead at the Independent Monitoring Board said “visiting Number 10 was a real privilege and certainly a highlight in the year. It was fascinating to see the places you see on the news in real life and to walk the same halls and stairs as so many figures from British history”.  

Guests commented on how surreal it felt, walking up to the big shiny black door after clearing security and ringing the bell. Lisa Davies, Chaplain at HMYOI Styal, said she was grateful for being granted to have a photo outside, “just to prove that we hadn’t been dreaming and we really had visited No 10 Downing Street!” 

Sitting at the large oak table in Margaret Thatcher’s study, guests enjoyed the opportunity to quiz Sarah about her fascinating role as the liaison between the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Justice, Home Office and MI5. In return, Sarah was really interested to hear about the roles and experiences of attendees and was genuinely interested in their views on how to improve the Criminal Justice System.  

“Sarah was interested in the challenges we face daily, as well as discussing themes such as recall to custody. It was a very interesting and worthwhile experience” (Lance Bilton, Probation Officer in South East and Eastern) 

“To say it was an insight is an understatement, and the role of the private secretary to the PM is certainly a challenging and daunting one to undertake.  It certainly opened up my eyes to the complexities of managing so many different national organisations” (Caroline Vine, Governor, HMP Whatton). 

Sarah noted that hosting guests as part of the Insights Festival was one of the highlights of the last few months – “Working at Number 10 is brilliant and exciting all of the time, but nothing is as interesting and exciting as actually getting to talk to prison officers, probation officers and HMPPS HQ staff who have first-hand insight of the justice system day in and day out. I quizzed everyone I spoke to on their experiences, particularly on things like recall and short sentences and IPP sentences. I learnt so much more from those few hours than in days and days sat at my inbox. I hope to be able to do it again, and to keep in contact with people!” 

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