Queen’s Birthday Honour takes Hackney man Frank from prison to palace

Current and former volunteers at St Giles, anonymous (left), Andy TIndall and Frank Harris. Photo Ma

Current and former volunteers at St Giles, anonymous (left), Andy TIndall and Frank Harris. Photo Matt Cetti-Roberts - Credit: Matt Cetti-Roberts

“If I can be going to Buckingham Palace, you can be any person you want to be.” That’s the message Frank Harris wants to pass onto troubled kids.

From the age of 11 until he was 44, Frank was in the criminal justice system. Detention centre, borstal, then prison.

Now, aged 57, he’s been awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, though he’s not sure why.

“Once I made sure it was really me, there were so many feelings,” he told the Gazette. “I’m the only one who knows my journey and if the Queen is going to give me an award, I must have made some changes. I tried to pat myself on the back, but it’s not easy to accept I’m worthy. I’m humbled.

“We’ve all seen the heroes in this country over the last few weeks, people helping others and putting their lives at risk. They want to give me a medal for making mistakes and changing? I haven’t been shouting about it.”

Frank, of South Hackney, is being rewarded for services to adult learning and skills. While serving his last sentence for importing cannabis from Amsterdam, he achieved his first qualification – an A in GCSE English, aged 44.

He then decided he liked learning, and after his release in 2007 took a college course and eventually got a degree. Next, he began working with the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace) and the Prisoners’ Education Trust.

Most Read

“Eleven years ago I’d never had a job,” he continued. “I didn’t have a qualification, I left school at 12 and I was in the system. It was a lifestyle choice. I wasn’t in prison the whole time but I wasn’t far from it.

“What changed? I’ve got four kids. I didn’t want to leave that legacy, I wanted them to remember me for something. I wanted to get a job.

“We started doing Shakespeare in prison and I liked it. I put myself into education full throttle. That was the vehicle that took me away from it. It freed me, and now I’ve got an award for it.”

Frank now works for the Single Homeless Project charity in Well Street, but he’s also worked with gang members and other troubled kids in the same position he was in. He says they need role models.

“In a way they are the lost generation,” he added. “They need self-worth and to feel they can achieve something. It may not be an award from the Queen – they might want to be the best basketball player. It’s difficult to tell me you can’t do it. You can make changes if you want to.”