Eloise Falconer joined Spark Inside as our newest Service Delivery Manager in March this year. Here she reflects on six months in her role introducing young people to coaching and engaging participants to join our Hero’s Journey programme and build brighter futures for themselves!
When I was a prison officer, I often saw people sporting ‘Spark Inside’ t‑shirts entering the houseblocks and engaging positively with young people in prison. I saw posters on the wall advertising the Hero’s Journey and describing coaching, something I had not thought much about aside from in a sporting context.
When I looked into Spark Inside I saw my alignment with their core values. I realised that I wanted to continue my work in the criminal justice system, but from a different angle. As an officer and key worker, I was able to support many young people in my care, but I was keen to contribute to an initiative that wholeheartedly pushed for rehabilitation, cultural and systemic change. When you’re a prison officer, compassion, empathy and role modelling are crucial in developing relationships, but constraints like staff shortages and burnout limit their implementation. So, when I saw the Service Delivery Manager role come up at Spark Inside, one that puts those qualities at its very core, I knew I had to apply.
Fast forward to 2023, I entered HMP High Down as a Spark Inside Service Delivery Manager, dressed in civilian clothing, which was interesting having grown accustomed to the officer uniform. As a newcomer from an unfamiliar organisation, I had to earn the confidence of both the officers and the young people. Despite this challenge, I experienced a welcoming and inquisitive response from the young people, who seemed more willing to approach me and ask about my work than my uniformed days, where an “us versus them” mentality sometimes prevailed.
I appreciated the opportunity for in-depth one-to-one conversations with the young men, a privilege you are often denied as an officer under pressure. I quickly sensed that there was a great interest in programmes. There is often the perception that people do not choose to utilise their time in prison, however from my experience, this is far from correct. It is often the resources that are lacking, not the young people’s motivation levels.
To get referrals and encourage participation, prison staff must understand and respect the service a voluntary organisation is offering. To build this necessary support, we offered a taster session to several staff from the Healthcare department. This was also my first taste of the Hero’s Journey, so I was unsure of what to expect, but excited to see the programme in action!
The experience exceeded my expectations; it was fascinating to see every individual’s initial reservation evaporate into an open, and engaging atmosphere. In just two hours, a bond was formed. The workshop encouraged everyone to think about who they are, what they have achieved and where they hope to take their potential.
I understood in this moment how beneficial the Hero’s Journey could be for young people in terms of motivation, reflection and self-understanding. It truly taps into the spark inside every person, and how there is always hope; the main obstacle standing in the way is oneself.
In May, I began recruiting for the first Hero’s Journey workshop. I was nervous about filling the workshop (max. eight participants) considering Spark Inside had not operated in the prison before, but I needn’t have worried, because as word spread from one young person to another, I ended up with 17 sign ups! Managing attendance could be challenging due to scheduling conflicts with social visits, meetings, and other activities, requiring occasional sacrifices from young people, but this made it all the more rewarding and commendable when they chose to prioritise their commitment to Hero’s Journey. We were delighted to see 100% attendance for two programmes and 66% attendance for the other two!
The workshops were incredible. Over three sessions, I witnessed the quieter individuals become more confident and eager to share their life experiences. It was heartwarming to see them discuss each other’s positive traits and acknowledge that they are so used to hearing negatives about themselves in the prison environment that the positives often get lost. One participant described Hero’s Journey as “finding yourself together with others”.
At the end of the workshops, each young person chooses one of the two co-facilitating life coaches for one-to-one coaching. Whilst some preferred the group nature of the workshop, others eagerly embraced the prospect of individual sessions to focus on their life plans and ambitions. These sessions encourage reflection on areas such as education, communication and goals, and gives the young people the space to start planning their future. Participants from our first workshop are currently halfway through their sessions and by all reports, are making fantastic progress.
I am now six months into my role and have organised four Hero’s Journey programmes, engaging 26 young men. I have been so pleased to witness the empowering, insightful and non-judgemental approach of the Spark Inside life coaches. They truly take the time to listen, to understand and to guide the young people into finding their own solutions, rather than imposing change upon them.
One young person shared “just talking about ourselves and our struggles has felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. It feels good.”
I have also been heartened to see how resourceful and knowledge-seeking many young people are. I am looking forward to my upcoming Hero’s Journeys and to working with everyone on our ever-growing waiting list! I am excited to continue sharing the tools and benefits of life coaching with as many young people as possible.