Event Report: “Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader… they set out to make a difference”

During the Q&A Session at the end of our Inspired in Hull lecture with Marcella Goligher on International Women’s Day, the microphone found its way to a youngster in the audience whose question was delightfully to the point: ‘is this what you wanted to do when you were growing up?’

The Governor of HMP Humber took the question in good spirit and laughed whilst shaking her head in response. If anyone had told her, while she was a student at Hull, first studying a BA in Social Work and Social Policy, and later a Masters in Social Work, that one day she’d be running a prison, she would have thought they were crazy.

Having begun her career as a Social Worker before moving into the Probation Service, and, eventually, the Prison Service, there has been one drive behind Marcella’s career choices: the desire to help people. This motivation was evident throughout her lecture. Whether it was vulnerable young people or mothers, men in the prison exhibiting challenging behaviour or colleagues or staff for whom she has responsibility, people are at the heart of everything she does.

As a colleague and a leader, Marcella is committed to supporting those she works with, helping them to develop their talents and skills and to find their best career paths. One of her stories perfectly illustrates her approach to work, as she described one of her first days in the prison, when she got to work serving food in one of the prison’s wings. The story went around staff at the prison, who knew that the Governor was not afraid to muck in and do her bit at a time of prison cuts and staff shortages. This story typifies Marcella’s approach to leadership.

Another aspect of leadership is a willingness to address difficult questions. When inmates were receiving mail coated in psychoactive substances, the solution Marcella chose was to photocopy all mail. An expensive, time-consuming and unpopular decision was later applauded by government officials, but at the time Marcella was forced to make a difficult choice and intervene to stop the spread of substances that were causing an increase in violence in the prison.

Another question from the audience addressed the fact that throughout her lecture, Marcella had referred to the inmates at HMP Humber as ‘men’ and not ‘prisoners’, she replied that this was an essential part of seeing the time the men spent in prison as a collaboration, as working together to rehabilitate them into society. Seeing the humanity in the men, just as she had seen the humanity in the children at the Young Offenders’ Institute, was important to Marcella, and the first step in helping them to make a productive return to society, without falling back into their old ways. Providing an education, support to get off drugs, vocational training and opportunities for personal development are only credible if the men are seen as more than just prisoners.

On International Women’s Day, we were delighted to welcome back to campus a remarkable alumna and to celebrate her achievements and contribution to society. The breadth of voices and experiences in the audience during the Q&A also spoke of the broad ranging appeal of the lecture, with young people, students, academics and even a former inmate at one of Marcella’s prisoners asking questions and taking advantage of the opportunity to hear from one of our outstanding former students.

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