Lottie Porter reflects on their first time hosting a VIP experience for Insights23.
Oasis Restore in Kent will be the first ever secure school, offering world-leading provision for children in the youth estate when it opens in Spring 2024. Our visit on 30 October provided 10 VIP ticket holders from across the criminal justice sector with exclusive behind the scenes access to the school before it opened.
The school is still a building site in the final stages of construction, so we had to think carefully about what logistics to prepare for the VIP experience. For example, we had to ensure we had the right PPE for our visitors to wear around the site. But for us as a project team, the planning was worth it.
We recognised HMPPS Insights was a great opportunity to demonstrate what makes the secure school different, the vision for the school and where lessons have been learned from best practice in existing settings too. It was also an opportunity for Oasis Charitable Trust, the Charity that will run the school, to share their insights and plans about the school’s focus on education, health and care to promote rehabilitation.
Our VIPs saw the whole facility, from the children’s flats and classrooms to visiting and staff areas. Those familiar with youth custody found it looked and felt very different from traditional young offender institutions they’d been to. This ‘school within prison walls’ represents a revolutionary approach to youth justice that has been many years in the making: the concept was first introduced in Charlie Taylor’s 2016 review before becoming a manifesto commitment in 2019.
Visitor feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with support for the modern approach that the school is taking to support children in turning away from crime. Visitors had different specialist interests relevant to the school – across placements, safeguarding, construction and probation policy to name a few – which prompted them to ask engaging questions and share their own insight.
Notably, visitors were impressed by the attention to detail in the very fabric of the building, as one attendee mentioned: “I thought some of the structural changes to the site with windows and the unit space re-purposed looked really good.” New windows and doors were something the project team have been very excited about, so we were delighted they shared our enthusiasm! Brand new to the prison estate, their barless and “secure by design” features are just one example of the detail that has gone into making this provision fit for purpose from inside and out.
We really enjoyed running the event and relished the opportunity to show colleagues across criminal justice the pioneering work that is taking place here. It’s important those working in related sectors know about the school and how it fits into the wider vision for youth custody, and prisons and probation more generally. Events like these help us build networks of experts who can not only advocate for our project and innovative approach, but also work together with us to continually improve the experience that children have in custody.