Life on the other side of the fence.

I spent 11 years working for the Prison Service, based at HMP Kirklevington Grange, with the last year also working at HMP/YOI Northallerton.  Throughout these 11 years I became very familiar with working life within a secure environment and had some great years, spending the last 7 years in a joint H&S/Fire safety role.

Northallerton was a different type of establishment, one of the last remaining older Victorian Prison establishments at the time (which is steeped in history) and although only spending a year there working there did make a positive impression.  I like to think that working in a custodial environment provided me with the essential transferrable skills needed to operate in the higher education sector, especially within an establishment such as Northallerton.  I do miss the morning logging onto the radio net as “Foxtrot” and getting used to not having to lock and prove every secure gate you went through during my first few weeks at the university.

I spend most of the time out and about the establishment carrying out the scheduled fire safety testing and inspections as well as of Health & Safety tasks, taking the radio call sign as referenced above “Foxtrot”.  As the role was very much hands on this brought me into contact with the operational side of things from provision of training, to working with security and the Estates function on a range of H&S/Fire topics including involvement in the site closure plans, particularly from a fire safety perspective.  Operating across all areas brought me into contact with all staff groups who provided valuable input, especially during the first few weeks of working there.

Little did I know that some 8 years later, the connection with the former HMP/YOI Northallerton  would be resurrected albeit under completely different circumstances.

Fast forward to the present time.

Following my departure from the Prison service back in January 2014 I joined the University of Sunderland as a HSE Adviser (Fire Focus).  My first knowledge of the Campus @ Northallerton plans was being asked to have a look at the buildings fire strategy document.  At that point I had no idea that the building was my former workplace until I considered the Northallerton location with the sort of familiar floor plans which although familiar had changed. The small print on the drawings then confirmed the location.   I then visited the site several times throughout the development with the most recent visit late May 2022.

Memories came flooding back of the former admin block, C wing, healthcare and former Segregation unit.  It was strange to see a supermarket and car park and units where the former gatehouse, A wing, visits, chapel, kitchens, gym, works department and Education used to be. I was still able to picture what the establishment looked like, and able to trace movements and moments in time albeit without those buildings and high perimeter wall.   The C@N building was where I was based previously, the ground floor kitchen area being in the same location as my fire office.  The upper rooms which the University occupies used to be one large open plan office which I also used to work from.   The layout has significantly changed with the removal of the former main access stair which has been replaced with the single central stair enclosure.

C wing has been transformed but has retained the character of its former use.  I was able to identify key areas of C wing, especially where the fire hydrant standpipe was located (in the cupboard on the ground floor).  I also used to monthly flush the fire hose reels and portable misting system on the twos (term used for the second floor level) and carry out other fire safety checks.

To summarise I had an enjoyable time with the Prison service, and also having the opportunity to operate within a historic location such as Northallerton which although has been completely transformed still strikes a chord with the remaining buildings on sit.