How Doncaster prison officer Alison ended up rubbing shoulders with Princess Anne

Standing in the middle of St James’s Palace, chatting away to The Princess Royal – it’s hardly a normal day for anyone.

Friday, 29th March 2019, 10:38 am
Updated Wednesday, 3rd April 2019, 9:42 am
Alison Collins receiving her award from The Princess Royal, Princess Anne
Alison Collins receiving her award from The Princess Royal, Princess Anne

For Alison Collins, it’s one she knows she’ll never forget.

“It was an absolutely amazing experience, one I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life,” smiles Alison, who was one of just ten people across Britain to be invited to the capital last month, to receive an award from the Butler Trust, of which Princess Anne is patron.

Alison, a prison officer from HMP Doncaster, was one of 400 staff and volunteers nominated for their outstanding service in UK prisons, probation, and youth justice settings.

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Alison Collins in London to collect her award

“It was incredibly humbling and I felt very proud,” she adds.

“The people from the Butler Trust made us all feel so special and valued.

“The Princess was extremely interested in the work we did, asking questions and listening intently to my answers. She was lovely and made me feel so proud of my achievements.”

Alison, aged 47, reveals she was shocked to learn of the award, after seven prisoners at HMP Doncaster – where she has worked for 23 years – nominated her.

“I never set out to be a prison officer, it was something I intended to ‘give a go’ for six months, but once at Doncaster I realised that it wasn’t just a ‘job’ but something which gave me a purpose and sense of pride and achievement.

“I consider my colleagues to be family.

“I think people might be surprised to know that a prison officer’s job is not just about locking doors; we incorporate a lot of different roles into our work, dealing with the most isolated and vulnerable people in the prison system, with complex mental health issues and learning disabilities. I spent my days dealing with situations most people would never encounter in a lifetime.

“My duties at present lie within the social care unit of the prison, which comprises of both mentally and physically challenged individuals in my care, as well as looking after prisoners at end of life care.

“I really enjoy the work I do, it enables me to help motivate those in my care and treat them as individuals incorporating a non-judgemental empathetic approach, which harvests respect, dignity and trust.

“It’s building on this trust that has enabled me to help those in my care. Little by little, with continued patience and respect, I encourage them to start talking to people and see them begin to socialise with others, something that prior to this they had no ability to do.

“I’ve worked with individuals, encouraging them not to live under their beds, in a world filled with fear and self-imposed isolation, and to learn essential transferable social skills which they can i mplement into their lives outside of the prison walls, which will hopefully stop them returning.

“My job is challenging, but rewarding, and my work with these individuals in my care makes my world a better one; I am so proud to continue to help those who need it most.”

The chair of the Butler Trust’s independent awarding panel, Sir Michael Harrison, revealed that Alison was nominated by seven prisoners in her care, with each pointing to her work with a very vulnerable older prisoner as a ‘shining example’ of the compassion and care she brings to their lives.

When asked about the nomination, Alison has her own thoughts on what she thinks she brings to her role.

“Empathy,” she says, simply.

“I believe in standing in someone else’s shoes but with your own socks on. I try and treat people the way in which I would like to be treated and carry out my work in a non-judgemental manner. I really care about what I do, and believe we can make a difference to an individual’s life by caring, listening and showing them that there is another way to deal with situations.

“I believe in making people feel valued and giving them a sense of self-worth.”

Now in its 34th year, the Butler Trust awards ceremony this year was attended by The Princess Royal, The Secretary of State for Justice, Rt. Hon. David Gauke MP, and prison and probation minister, Rory Stewart.

“The other nominees and winners were so lovely and so deserving,” says Alison.

“Each and every one of them does an amazing job in their individual fields of work and meeting them made me feel so privileged to be considered alongside them in the awards.

“The award means everything to me. It makes me feel so proud of the work that all of us do in the service.

“I know all my colleagues in Serco Justice & Immigration are not only proud of me, but also proud of each and every member of staff who works in such a challenging and difficult environment.”

Jerry Spencer, contract director at Serco, said: “Alison being recognised as a Butler Trust Award winner comes as no surprise to anyone at HMP Doncaster, both staff and prisoners.

“Alison is a truly caring and inspirational Prison Custody Officer, she turns the lives of very vulnerable people around though her exceptionally caring and empathetic approach to her role, whilst bringing humour and hope to everyone she engages with. We are extremely proud of her achievements, which symbolises all that Serco is about….caring.”