History: Forty-one years and an MBE... life as a Newham probation officer
- Credit: Archant
Through-out his 41 years working as a probation officer in Newham, Nick Paul admits he’s seen a thing or two.
But it was his “burning desire to make a positive contribution” that captured his heart and drew him to the job, along with wise words from a senior probation officer, John Pannell.
“He told me I’d need to grow my hair, get educated and learn to speak properly if I wanted to do it.
“So I grew my hair, went to Bristol University in 1971 as a trainee Probation Officer and, well, I ignored the last part.
“The other thing he said was I needed to gain credibility if I wanted to help people and it’s what I’d tell anyone today. You’ve got to have credibility and perseverance. Credibility with the courts, colleges and clients, so they were wise words of his.”
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Nick’s first office in 1973 consisted of three old houses knocked together on Grove Crescent Road in Stratford before he was moved to Barking Road in Plaistow in 1985.
He said: “It was fun working as a probation officer in the 70s and 80s in Newham. Social services had the same area and everything was on a much smaller scale so we knew everyone in our field, both in Custom House and Canning Town.
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“We used to work closely with the Mayflower youth club, which used to be a significant centre in Canning Town. We’d take young offenders to camps in Snowdonia and arrange sailing through the boat projects we ran but that doesn’t seem to happen as much anymore. It’s more about home visits now.”
Nick has seen first hand how valuable a probation officer’s work can be, one woman he worked with has been clean from drugs for 14 years now and a disheartened man who hadn’t worked for 30 years recently got a job.
Employed by North East London Probation and After Care Service, the job involved supervising people with probation orders.
When he first started there were six probation officers and one senior probation officer working there. Now, he says, there are at least 40.
“It was a real struggle for us,” he said.
“The responsibilities have definitely changed now. We used to write reports for criminal cases for sentencing purposes, giving the magistrates or judges background information about the person they were sentencing, but I always preferred working with offenders. The essence of it all is about helping people make good decisions.
“The key problems are still around today though, housing, family breakdown. However, when I first started there weren’t many drug addicts, it was more to do with drink.”
Having worked in the job since 1973 there were sad faces all round when he called it a day on August 31 this year.
Nick was awarded an MBE in 2004, recognising his willingness to go the extra mile and dedication to the job.
He described the “huge grin” across his face as he met the Queen, adding: “She said to me, ‘you must have seen some interesting things’, and I smiled and said ‘you’re right about that’.”