July 19, 2022

Unpaid Work Experience: My Insights22 Day with Community Payback

Mark Stanley
Deputy Director, Head of Digital Probation

In this Insights22 blog, Mark Stanley, Deputy Director and Head of Digital Probation writes about one of his recent HMPPS Insights22 experiences, a day doing Community Payback (a.k.a. Unpaid Work).

I don’t mean to imply you haven’t attended such events, but if like me you had no idea what HMPPS Insights events were and weren’t sure if you could make the time to attend, I hope to persuade you otherwise. So this is directed at people who might wonder next time what HMPPS Insights are about and whether it’s worth their time to attend one.

For me nothing beats going back to the front line, meeting people who use the services we build and who are asked to follow the policies we create. Even more, nothing beats meeting people in prison or on probation. I’m lucky to work with teams that have user researchers, so I get to see, nearly first-hand, how people respond to the digital services and technology we’re delivering. On these occasions I’m observing silently in the background, usually on a MS Teams call. Getting to physically work alongside people is exponentially better and more engaging.

Having signed up for the experience, I was sent a letter mandating my attendance, just like a person on probation would receive, and I pitched up at a large park in Highbury, London, to do Community Payback. I had to supply my shoe size (10 – average UK male) as we’d be working outdoors in steel toe-capped boots, and the supervisors are there to ensure safe working. I was also kitted out with a high vis vest- turned inside out to conceal ‘COMMUNITY PAYBACK’- the supervisor wanting to differentiate others of us from those sentenced to perform unpaid hours. I was also given a hoe.

I cleared weeds, I picked up litter, I planted plants, but while all very healthy and outdoorsy my reason for being there was to meet and speak to people. Especially to understand the needs of those my teams and I are working for. I met the person who has the interesting and complex job of identifying suitable opportunities for Community Payback. Of all the suggestions communities send in, only a few are suitable to occupy a large team of people, or have essential facilities like toilets, or areas to shelter if it pours.

I also spoke to the area delivery manager, who assesses who can do a given form of work- you can’t just assign anyone to work in a public space like the park we were in. And I met the supervisor, who must ensure people turn up on time to begin their ‘hours’, formally log these, and ensure everyone is working effectively, not endangering themselves or others.

It was great to understand the processes, and the digital (or not) tools these front line staff use. The highlight for me though was speaking with people on supervision - those carrying out the work. I was amazed at how most responded to being in the open air, tidying the park and putting in plants. It wasn’t a surprise to hear how they gained from the experience, not just the residents of a prettier park; after all it was quite something to be outside in warm weather, in as green and natural an environment as London could muster.

Here's an image of the lovely high vis get-up we had on and the cheery supervisor in front of the well-equipped tool shed.

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