Congratulations to #citylis Alumni, Neil Barclay, who has been awarded an award by The Butler Trust for his work as a civilian librarian at HMP Thameside. Neil recently completed an MSc in Information Science and has previously previously written about his work on this blog.
First launched in 1985, the Butler Trust Annual Awards celebrate outstanding dedication, skill and creativity by people working in prisons, probation and youth justice settings across the UK. The Awards are the most prestigious of their kind and are presented each year by our Royal Patron, HRH The Princess Royal.
The following is an edited extract from The Butler Trust website about this award.
Well done Neil!
Neil Barclay works for Serco as a civilian librarian at HMP Thameside, and wins his Butler Trust Award for transforming Thameside’s library into one that’s been described as “the envy of other prisons which have been operating for many years.”
It’s fitting that his Lead Nominator, a serving prisoner called Anton*, writes at length and with such eloquence about the difference Neil has made as “a very dedicated man who made our library progress, and who works restlessly to develop and enhance his newly titled Learning and Resource Centre to engage prisoners.”
As Anton reports, Neil “could easily have left the library in the state it was when he found it. He took the job as prison librarian whilst doing a master’s degree and decided he wasn’t happy providing prisoners with no more than a trolley half filled with old torn books and a few outdated magazines with little or no interest to man or beast.”
Since Neil started his work as a librarian in July 2013, says Anton, “he has improved the services far beyond a standard prison library. Under his leadership, there was a clear increase in prisoner engagement and library usage and also in the initiatives offered. He decided that rather than shy away from the challenge of delivering a mediocre book lending service to a near thousand impatient men, he set to work expanding the room with shelves and removing partitions, ordering books in hundreds favouring genres such as crime fiction, a prisoners’ favourite… Eventually he had amassed a commanding library of choices ranging from science fiction, easy reads for the dyslexic and those finding reading difficult, education in all forms from computing to languages, practical guides to trades plus maths and English learning companions and fantasy authors.”
Neil describes himself as “very proud to be leading on these initiatives which have expanded our agenda to make the Library more than just a book-lending service. I am also immensely grateful for the many charities, volunteers and speakers who have donated their time into enhancing our Library and therefore the wellbeing of the prisoners who use the service.”
He describes how “heartening it is to see those who are shy about expressing opinions, opening up and growing in confidence to the extent that they are comfortable revealing their vulnerable side to the rest of the [Prisoner Reading] Group. I believe this initiative is important to prisoners as it stimulates an exchange of views, encouraging their communication with one another, while exposing them to new material.” Neil believes these discussions “are highly influential in improving prisoners’ social skills which is beneficial to those with aggression issues and a key asset towards rehabilitation.”
Neil reports that when well-known people visit the library to take part in book review sessions or talk about their lives, “what transpires from these talks always gives the inmates ‘food for thought’. Andy McNab was particularly inspiring, not only for his SAS exploits, but for the fact that he learned to read and write in prison – something many in the room identified with. Other guest appearances, such as that of Martina Cole, have encouraged many prisoners to write about their experiences which many have claimed to be a therapeutic and worthwhile exercise.”
Neil has further ambitions for his librarianship, including developing new collaborative partnerships and, remarkably, reports that “we are in the early stages of planning a literary festival following a well received celebratory event. This will be an exciting and innovative opportunity as currently only one other prison has attempted to set up a literary festival within the prison environment.”
[*Names of prisoners have been changed to protect identity.]
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