Gatelodge talks to Oana Coman about her time at the POA Supporting Women in the Workplace Workshop

Please tell our readers a bit about yourself.

I have been working in HMP Wandsworth for almost eight years in various roles. I started as a civilian, working with the substance misuse team, and decided I wanted to work as a PE officer. I joined the service in 2018, as an officer on B wing, and – after a year of hard work – I qualified as a PE officer at the end of 2019. Covid hit and, unfortunately, there wasn’t much PE going on in 2020-21, so I applied for a promotion as a TCM and did the role of health resilience lead for one year and few months. My heart was always in PE, though, so decided to return to the gym department this year and do a job that I enjoy.

For those who don’t know, can you tell us about your establishment – category, number of prisoners, any special units, etc?

HMP Wandsworth is a Cat B establishment in London, with prisoners who are on remand, waiting to attend court. We do have sentenced prisoners, too, who are awaiting transfer to other establishments depending on the length of their sentence. It’s a Victorian building, 173 years old, and holds approximately 1,650 prisoners. There are specialised units such as detox wing, vulnerable prisoners, foreign nationals, incentivised drug-free living unit, and mental and physical health hospital unit.

Where did you hear about the workshop?

It was through an email from Angela Sinclair, senior office administrator.

Why did you want to attend?

I wanted to learn more about what I can do to support my colleagues in the workplace, hear their experiences, and share mine. Being informed about different policies and projects that are happening at a wider scale, which sometimes are not cascaded down to frontline staff, was another reason I decided to apply.

What did you like best about the workshop?

I really enjoyed the calm, relaxed approach that the facilitators exhibited during the workshops. I also recognised the amount of work and energy invested in organising the event. All the workshops were relevant, informative, and so inspiring, and left me with something positive, or an action, to take back to my establishment.

What did you expect to get from the workshop?

I expected to hear my colleagues' experiences as women working in a prison – the challenges they face and how they deal with certain situations or overcome those challenges. I also wanted to hear different ideas and what they bring to the roles they are doing every day.

I also expected to get more knowledge and be better equipped when dealing with difficult situations in the workplace, either by personal experience and/or supporting my colleagues.

Did the workshop meet your expectations?

It very much did, and gave me so much more. The big folder with all the policies and extra useful information alone is so valuable – having all the information in one place to refer too and share with my colleagues. I met some amazing women who share similar values, and who joined the service and attended the workshops for the right reasons: wanting to make our workplace a better, more positive environment.

What is the most important thing you learned?

There's a lot of information out there and it can get overwhelming, or sometimes you are unsure where to find what you need. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, raise your concerns, Have a voice!

Do you think it is important that the POA continues to hold the workshops?

Absolutely. These sessions are so valuable, and more people will benefit from attending. It all starts with one person; they can drive the change and the domino effect will follow.

What would you say to others thinking of applying to attend?

Go for it! You will not regret it, and most likely will have fun while learning about your rights as an employee, and what is in your power to create better working conditions for yourself and those around you.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to Gatelodge. 

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.