Earlier this month I had the great honour of attending the ‘Listeners’ Event at HMP Stafford, which was also attended by the Lord Lieutenant Mr Ian Dudson, together with the Mayor of Stafford Councillor Gareth Jones and his consort Mrs Renee Robinson.
The Listener’s Programme was the inspiration of Kathy Baker. Kathy has devoted herself to suicide prevention, helping to save countless lives after founding the Smaritans’ ‘Listener Scheme’ for prisoners in 1991. The scheme was set up following the tragic suicide of a 15-year old boy who hanged himself while detained at HMP Swansea. At the time, the ground-breaking scheme trialled a revolutionary approach to suicide prevention by training prisoners to lend a compassionate ear to others and discuss their feelings in a confidential and non-judgemental environment.
The governor of Swansea at the time, Jim Heyes, was a man of foresight who had been deeply affected by the death of the youngster and welcomed the Samaritans into his prison. He worked closely with Kathy to establish the ‘Listeners’ as an integral part of his prison regime. In 1991, the ‘Listener Scheme’ evolved into the confidential peer-support service it is today and once successfully piloted in HMP Swansea it grew at a rapid rate.
Between them, Kathy and Jim created a “living organism”, as one governor described it, which has spread so that now every prison in the country is obliged to have a relationship with the Samaritans and such a scheme in place as part of their key performance indicators.
Youth crime and its consequences is a cause close to my heart, and one I want to draw attention to during my time as High Sheriff. Hearing stories such as Kathy’s is extremely heartening and knowing schemes such as ‘Listeners’ are in place to help people in need does provide hope for the future.