Jackie Marshall, NEC reports on the POA’s second Supporting Women in the Workplace Workshop, 28-30 November2023

After months of planning, the day of the workshop finally arrived. Being the second workshop, I was quite apprehensive, as I wanted it to be as successful as the first.

Joe Simpson, Deputy General Secretary and POA Chair of Equalities, and Mark Fairhurst, National Chair, opened the workshop explaining how it had come into being and expressing their support. Steve Gillan, General Secretary, was unable to attend because of other union commitments but sent a statement expressing his support and saying that the union movement should be a safe place for all.

Francis Stuart, HMPPS’ Head of Employee Relations, sent a recorded message to the delegates. From the initial planning of the first workshop, Francis has given his full support.

Delegates to the workshop included members of all ranks from prisons across the estate plus Ashworth Secure Hospital and PECS Northern Ireland. Also at the event were Tracey Varela, HMPPS HRBP, and Dawn Orchard HMPPS Employee Relations. Not all delegates were branch officials as the workshop was open to all female members.

Our first speaker was Kate Moran, Senior Policy Officer from UK maternity rights charity Maternity Action. Kate talked about the charity's work, the law surrounding maternity leave, and the wealth of information available on the internet.

The second speaker was Lorraine Emery of Thompsons Solicitors, on the subject of IVF. Since the first workshop, at which IVF was a major topic, the POA has been in talks with HMPPS asking for a policy to cover those going through IVF treatment; currently the only direction to Governors and staff is ‘up to five days special leave’. There is new guidance out, but it is still poor and is nowhere near enough to help those going through the IVF treatment process. The POA was told that we would be included in the team developing the guidance but that never happened. Instead, HMPPS produced the guidance, taking no notice of comments from the POA, and published it on the intranet. Far more work needs to be done to help and support staff, both male and female, through the IVF process.

Esther Gibney-Hulme, HMPPS Tackling Unacceptable Behaviour Unit (TUBU), was the third speaker. Esther spoke about the role of TUBU and how it was expanding. Sarah Coccia, HMPPS Area Executive Director, London, was next on the list. As animated as ever, Sarah gave a powerful speech and encouraged the delegates to speak out and challenge.

Sarah Woolley, General Secretary of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union, followed. Sarah, is the youngest and first female national official of the Bakers union in more than 176 years. She talked about her journey through her working and union life and told the delegates to dream high for what they can achieve. The BFAWU has been a longstanding ‘friend’ of the POA.

Unfortunately, our next speaker was unable to attend in person. After a few technical issues, we were joined via Teams, by Samantha Johnson, of The Matchgirls Memorial, a group raising funds for a statue to commemorate the matchgirls – ‘the hidden victims of the industrial revolution’. She told the story of the Bryant and May matchgirls who, in 1888, took on the the dominating, patriarchal world of matchstick making and won. Women and girls at the time were working 14 hours a day in the East End of London, exposed to deadly phosphorous vapours. To read more about the matchgirls go to>the-story-of-the-strike

Finally, Tracey Varela and Dawn Orchard, our HMPPS delegates, started their presentation giving the other delegates a laugh by showing their years-old ID cards from the days before hair straighteners.

They talked about carers, the menopause and employee relations but the most important reason for them being at the workshop was that it enables both of them to hear first-hand the struggles the membership is facing and then return to the business to do some work around what is in place and escalate key themes.

Amy Rees, HMPPS Chief Executive Officer, was invited to address the workshop but declined.

Between speakers delegate discussed many other femalerelated issues including why more women aren’t involving themselves and joining local committees; uniform; the fitness test; reasonable adjustments; and WLB.

This year’s charity was Breast Cancer Now and £357.60 was raised during the workshop with a few games and a raffle.

A big thank you to all who gave donations, including the Prison Service Charity Fund, the POA Welfare Committee, Sarah Woolley and Funmbi Ogunrin.

A total of £1,132.83 has been sent to Breast Cancer Now. 



“I was proud to address the second women’s workshop. It is vital we talk to our members and garner their thoughts and ideas. The information from the last women’s workshop has allowed the NEC to put pressure on our employers to bring in new policies to make our members working and home lives much better. I would like to thank those who attended for their time and support and I hope it assisted them to understand what the union is about”.

Joe Simpson, Deputy General Secretary and POA Chair of Equalities


“When Jackie Marshall NEC member came to me with the idea of a women’s workshop, I confirmed that I thought it was long overdue, given that more than 25 per cent of our members in the POA are female, and at times we needed to champion their workplace issues more than we do. The first women’s workshop was extremely popular and was oversubscribed. But women members being given the time and space to talk about their issues was vitally important so that Jackie Marshall, Sarah Rigby and Angela Montgomery could bring them back to the NEC for further discussions and to set policy going forward with our key demands on behalf of our women members was long overdue. I am proud that I am part of the TUC Sexual Harassment task force developing clear policy within the union movement to take forward not just with our employers but also within the union movement. The old saying is absolutely right “A woman’s place is in her union”. As far as I am concerned, the POA should continue with these workshops for as long as they are needed. There are some great initiatives coming out of these sessions where we can work with our respective employers in a partnership approach to assist POA members in the workplace”.

Steve Gillan, General Secretary


“It was a pleasure to address so many committed POA members at the second POA women’s workshop at the Quorn Grange Hotel. Their enthusiasm to improve the working lives of their colleagues and rectify poor practice in the workplace was inspirational. No other union that represents frontline prison staff can compete with what our proud union is achieving on behalf of our female members. I know from feedback that all attendees had a positive experience and we now look forward to challenging the employer to improve the working experiences of our female colleagues.”

Mark Fairhurst, National Chair


“I wanted to congratulate the POA for championing the women’s workshop initiative. I am heartened that HMPPS and the POA are as one in our shared objective to ensure that we properly support all women colleagues in the workplace. I welcome the challenge that the POA provides when we don’t get this right, and the important insight and perspective it provides from the female membership. Step by step, progress is being made, but I recognise that there is still a way to go. I hope this initiative, which was also championed by Dawn Orchard (HMPPS Employee Relations), Tracey Varela (MOJ People Group) and Sarah Coccia (Area Executive Director, London), will also encourage more women to consider standing as trade union representatives and to help influence and encourage this significant work going forwards.”

Francis Stuart, HMPPS Head of Employee Relations


“The workshop has been the best I have ever had the pleasure to attend. I have learnt so much that I can take back to my establishment and implement. Spending quality time with other powerful women has been an absolute pleasure. Hearing from other inspirational women throughout the workshop has made me believe that I can and will achieve anything”.

Victoria Glover, HMP Chelmsford


“Such a great experience, I have met friends for life, been inspired so much and I will not forget this experience”.

Jade Lancaster, HMP Moorland


“I have had such an amazing time; the course has been so informative and most certainly interesting. I have met fantastic people but most of all had a laugh and learned so much. I look forward to the next course. Thank you to all who made it special for us all”.

Karen Jackson, HMP North Sea Camp


“The Supporting Women in the Workplace Workshop has been incredibly beneficial. Not only has it been fun and eye opening it was also incredible to meet so many women who are working hard to give women a voice. I am fully invested in returning to my establishment and driving change to provide a safer, more informed and supported environment for female staff. Women of the past made such an influential change for women of today, this shouldn’t stop and women deserve a voice. Let’s champion women and empower women as we can achieve anything with the support of each other. Thank you for such a fantastic experience”.

Nadia Howe, HMP Elmley


“The workshop was really eye opening. I learned great information regarding women’s wellbeing. The table I sat on was full of phenomenal women who have overcome so much, a PEI, an apprentice coach/SO, a dedicated worker and a HMPPS executive employee. The key information gave me the inspiration to not just be resilient but to do the right thing. I came to the event after a tough situation and the workshop was a breath of fresh air. I particularly liked the IVF and menopause segments. I was inspired by Sarah Coccia talking of the importance of women’s wellbeing and the reminder to utilize whatever outlet keeps you resilient. Sarah Woolley’s talk and inspiring story regarding her journey to becoming General Secretary. She also mentioned the fact we are all leaders for attending, it was empowering. Lastly, the bonding sessions, the raffle and the socials were a great way to get to know the ladies."

Funmbi Ogunrin HMYOI Cookham Wood


"I have come to the workshop with no expectations and left with a world of knowledge, friends, future support, connection and an amazing, warm fuzzy feeling. I am so proud to be part of the union. Jackie, Angela, Sarah & Angela have been absolutely amazing; so much preparation and thought has gone into organizing this event. I loved Jackie’s relaxed/calm facilitation approach, Sarah’s sense of humour & laugh, Angela S for doing all the behind the scenes work in terms of admin and Angela M for her wisdom. I have learned how I can be more supportive to my female colleagues with policies to back that up – knowledge is power. A massive thank you."

Oana Coman HMP Wandsworth

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.