Peak hillsides offer former offenders an improved view of the future

28 Feb 2023
Former offenders are literally building new lives for themselves on the windswept hills of the Peak District National Park.

The volunteers are learning heritage crafts like dry stone walling and hedge laying – skills that offer the possibility of worthwhile jobs further down the line. They are doing it amid the stunning scenery of the 555 square miles of the UK’s first designated National Park, far removed from the towns and cities in which they may be struggling to turn their backs on crime and chaotic lifestyles.

As well as the practical skills they are learning, and the chance to gain recognised qualifications, the 12-week Fit for Work Landscape Therapy course delivered by Ingeus Justice Services offers the opportunity to experience teamwork and problem solving. There are benefits too for the landscape: the repair of historic dry stone walls that are no longer stockproof and reviving centuries-old hedgerows that are the home to birds and other wildlife.

The area of green skills is a growing employment sector: with an estimated 70 per cent of the UK’s 120,000 miles of dry stone walls in a wretched condition, many ‘wallers’ have work booked up for two years ahead.

The project, part of the Fit For Work programme, has been funded via HM Prison & Probation Service Co-financing Organisation, which uses European Social Fund money to move individuals in custody and the community closer to the labour market.

It sees teams of up to six former offenders working with Ingeus instructors and a park ranger. The participants are picked up from their homes and driven to work locations in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire two or three days a week – whatever the weather!

The first group to achieve Derbyshire Eco Centre environmental sustainability qualifications received their awards in January, while those taking the Lantra Level 1 Certificate in Dry Stone Walling are due to have their new skills assessed in February. Over the year-long contract, Ingeus anticipates around 36 participants will emerge with these nationally recognised qualifications.

Peak District National Park Authority CEO Phil Mulligan says: “To know these traditional skills, that are so intertwined with the landscape of the Peak District, are being used in a way that also builds personal confidence, employability, and supports rehabilitation is inspiring. 

“Fit For Work teams have been at the forefront of keeping routes safe and accessible for our visitors and looking after the views that everyone comes to enjoy, and that’s a contribution everyone involved should be rightly proud of.”

Steve Hampton is the Ingeus Project Manager for the Landscape Therapy scheme. He says: “A lot of the participants have been told in the past that they will never amount to anything, but this course makes them stronger physically and mentally. They feel more confident and skilful in order to carry on with their lives.

“I really believe that being out in the open air helps to clear their minds.”

This participant agrees wholeheartedly: “The scenery has been breathtaking and really takes your mind off the day-to-day stuff. I value the positive way the staff and rangers have made me feel when undertaking the jobs we have done. I have a great feeling of self-worth when I stand back and look at the work I have completed. 

“I’m definitely more positive towards my future and already setting new goals.”

Fiona Matthews, Ingeus Head of Delivery – CFO3 Supply Chain, says: “We are thrilled to have helped bring such a fantastic opportunity in Fit for Work to CFO3 participants. It gives those who have been in a bad place, and who want to improve their future, the opportunity to reclaim their lives in a positive manner, gaining valuable skills and experience.

“We’re extremely proud of the work from all of the participants and the team on the ground bringing it to life and making it such a huge success.”

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