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Commendation Award for Fife College Manager

Fife College Learning Centre Manager, Brian Cunningham is to receive a prestigious Butler Trust Award from Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, for his commitment and dedication to learning within the Scottish Prison Service.
Brian Cunningham
Brian Cunningham

Brian will be presented with the award from HRH Princess ​Anne, who is Patron of the Butler Trust, on 15 th  March at St James’s Palace in London.

Brian, 63 from Perth, has spent thirty years at HMP Perth bringing a remarkable and innovative range of educational initiatives to fruition. 

Lisan Donald, a colleague of Brian’s, nominated him for the award and said: “Brian is extremely dedicated, knowledgeable, and approachable. He encourages exceptional innovative practice and ideas and is extremely deserving of this award for his hard work, motivation and range of projects he has initiated over the years.”

Brian’s recent innovative projects include: Arts projects ‘Atonement’, a CD recorded live by HMP Perth Prison Band ‘The Core’ and supported by other local bands and Perth’s Clearwater Studios. All profits from CD went to supporting CHAS children’s hospice. A Koestler Awards Platinum Award Winning Drama partnership with The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, singer/songwriter workshops in partnership with Perth College UHI – leading to a live performance, and an eight week collaborative project with Churches Action for The Homeless (CATH) ‘Cigar Box Guitars’ which led to both qualifications and performances.

Working in partnership with the prison Chaplaincy Team created a project, ‘Faith Imprisoned’, which brought in speakers to present on people from the past, of various faiths, who had experienced imprisonment. Learners built on these ‘creative juices’ for their own writing, poetry, and art – with a coffee table book planned on completion.

Another particularly pioneering approach was the introduction of ‘Family Learning’, with prisoners’ wives or partners and children coming into the prison Learning Centre to develop learning together as a family.

‘The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Families’, a parenting course run in partnership with Fife Community and Learning Developments, Adult Learning Team was also very successful.

‘Second Thoughts First’ was a Perth and Kinross Award Winning community wide project that created curriculum materials on drugs and alcohol for use in schools throughout the region, while ‘Mental Health First Aid Workshops’ increased awareness of and ways to deal with the issues. Meanwhile, a Peer Tutoring programme trained specialist mentors.

‘Cell Block Science’ is currently being run collaboratively with St Andrew’s University. This allows prisoner learners to get an eight week science experience, while projects on WW1 and guest speakers from the armed forces have helped, in particular, veterans in prison as well as providing inspiration for artists, poets and creative writers.

Brian has also introduced a family-oriented Awards Ceremony which helps celebrate success and raise confidence and self-esteem. The impact of this was captured well by one offender, who said:

“I had never received any kind of award or certificate until coming here to the Learning Centre. My family are so proud it has made me want to do more.”

Brian is delighted to be recognised for his work and is looking forward to the presentation event in March. Said Brian: “I am delighted to be receiving this award – I retired just a few weeks ago and so being recognised now for what I have accomplished is an honour and means a great deal.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my role at HMP Perth and liked working with the team to promote learning which has a significant positive effect on the learners in prison. The many projects we were involved with also benefit the wider community and help to break down barriers. The learners enjoy working with outside organisations or community groups on live projects, giving them a sense of purpose and the feeling they are giving something back and having a tangible outcome to the project work.

“We worked with all three local authorities, Perth and Kinross, Fife and Dundee and Angus, who represent the community facing population of HMP Perth.  By working with the Adult Learning and Family Teams from these areas, it allows engagement prior to liberation and transition back to the communities, this builds relationships and trust which improves the chances of sustained engagement with the teams back in the community.

“Many of the projects and opportunities have been made possible by the Learning Centre being a strong part of the Perth & Kinross Adult Literacy & Numeracy Partnership.  This partnership has allowed partners to share best practice, resources and to share each other’s training opportunities.  Linking in with what happens in other organisations and the community has been key to the success of these projects.”  

Katharine Brash, Director of Learning and Skills at Fife College was delighted to hear of Brian’s Commendation and said: “We are so proud of Brian and all he has achieved over the past 30 years, he is a credit to the College and very deserving of this prestigious commendation. We look forward to hearing all about the presentation at the Palace and wish Brian well in his retirement.”

“The transformative impact of education on prisoners’ lives is enormous, and Brian’s work, offering a diverse range of options and projects to appeal and engage all prisoners, is inspiring.”

“One offender’s remark sums up the impact of this very well:

“I hated school but this is so different, I feel I can learn something now.”

The Butler Trust Award Scheme is an annual awards scheme which promotes excellence in correctional settings throughout the United Kingdom. From 300 nominations received this year 11 awards and 19 commendations will be granted.

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