Nathan Dick worked for Clinks since 2006 and has recently left to work at the Ministry of Justice. In that time he has held many posts. His final role at Clinks was Head of Policy and Communications. This is Nathan’s final blog, reflecting on his time at Clinks.
It feels like a lifetime ago that I joined Clinks. When I joined back in 2006, Clinks was based in York and had six or seven staff, most of whom were beavering away on short-term projects. The office was in the capable hands of the recently retired Jean Coates with help from a steady supply of volunteers released on temporary license from HMP Askham Grange. I think our membership was somewhere in the region of 200 organisations. We had a quarterly monochrome hard copy newsletter. There was one regional development officer in the South West. A ‘ChangeUp’ project (anyone remember those?) in Yorkshire and Humberside. Oh, and the Ministry of Justice didn’t exist, neither did the National Offender Management Service. Most of our work was mainly, although not exclusively, focussed on the prison system, and our strategic relationship with the government was respectful but embryonic at best.
As I leave, Clinks seems like a very different charity. We moved to London, a practical move which brought us closer to decision makers in central government. Our organisation grew. We moved away from projects and into new teams such as membership and events, communications, policy and local development across England and Wales. We developed specialist networks such volunteering and mentoring, the Arts Alliance, Women’s Breakout, and the Health and Wellbeing network. We even have a senior management team, and more recently some actual administrative support (you know you’ve made it when you can afford admin). We have seen membership figures of 600 organisations and more, an e-bulletin of more than 10,000 readers, a twitter account with over 12,000 followers, a website that looks fresh and modern with directories of services. We also changed our focus to cover prison and probation. Our relationship with government has completely transformed, from being embryonic to a strategic partnership. What a difference a decade makes. Although, don’t forget that Clinks is still tiny – about 20 very busy employees. People are often shocked when they visit the Clinks office and see how few staff are there.
This sort of organisational growth and change doesn’t happen by accident. My genuine belief is that it happened because some things at Clinks remained constant. Here’s what I think those things are:
- A vocal (and wonderful) membership – The voluntary sector working in criminal justice has continually inspired me. They’re never dull, always challenging and highly informed. They develop strong practices, test new approaches and take risks. But importantly the membership has been open, honest, and taken the time to provide Clinks with the necessary intel and evidence to support the sector.
- Great staff – Clinks has been blessed by a long line of brilliant people doing an unbelievable job.
- Fantastic leadership – Clive Martin and Anne Fox provide stellar examples of leadership which anyone would be foolish to ignore. They both taught me a lot. The practical, emotional and ethical leadership provided by Clinks’ board of trustees and the various chairs across the years has been invaluable – never underestimate the impact of strong and thoughtful governance.
- Strong values – Organisational values matter, especially when political changes and funding challenges pull you in any number of different directions. Clinks has remained committed to its membership. It has spoken out for minority groups in the criminal justice system, championed local responses, and put service users at the centre of policy development, service design and delivery.
- Being friendly – We all work in an imperfect system with people who have complex needs. It’s not easy, often frustrating. It takes an emotional toll, and if you’re not careful it can be overwhelming. When the silver lining in the cloud is hard to spot then people appreciate a friendly person to talk to. Clinks staff were often on hand to provide a shoulder, an ear or some advice.
I can say, without doubt, that Clinks changed my life. I found a passion for reforming the justice system, I discovered the creativity and passion of the voluntary sector, I met service users and learned from their life experiences, I had access to prisons and prison officers across England and Wales. I worked in probation services, the probation inspectorate, and finally the Ministry of Justice on various secondments. I went from being a project officer to senior manager – I think I’ve done almost every job you can do at Clinks. The faith Clinks had in me and the flexibility they gave me to experience such a wide variety of work all amount to a debt that I can never hope to repay. Mind you, it was hard work; often putting in long hours, maintaining a keen eye for detail, a good ear (that is regularly bent), thick skin, developing the necessary diplomatic skills, lots of (necessary) partnership working, meeting short deadlines and delivering incredibly ambitious projects were all part and parcel of working at Clinks. Even though I didn’t always achieve the change I’d hoped for - as a result of the projects, campaigns, or policy responses - it was always rewarding work.
So now I’m at the Ministry of Justice, working on probation reform. Moving on and doing something different in a new place is, in my view, good for the soul and keeps the brain whirring. I take with me over a decade of experience working at Clinks, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
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