I’m building a new life by rebuilding dry stone walls
27 Mar 2023
Steve Warren’s life took a dramatic downturn in a short space of time. After a career as a tree surgeon, he began drinking and in just a year he had lost his job, his marriage, his family, his driving licence and, finally, his freedom.
Finding himself unemployed and reduced to living on his own in a small flat it was, he says, “a ticking timebomb” that resulted in heavier drinking and being sent to prison in 2016.
He says: “I was convicted of driving with excess alcohol, criminal damage and possession of an offensive weapon. Shocking, I know, but because of the drinking it was a bit of a blur. I could barely remember what I’d done until the evidence was in front of me in court.”
Released on licence, his probation practitioner in Derby referred him to the Fit For Work programme. The scheme saw him learn how to repair stone walls in the Peak District National Park – the start of a journey that allows him to look ahead with new hope, new confidence and a new job as an Ingeus Peer Mentor.
The 47-year-old recalls: “I got great support right from the first day of the Fit For Work programme, from the team and the other participants. I had relapses with my drinking, but they had time for me and saw potential in me. It made me want to do even better and battle through my withdrawals.”
Seeing others join the scheme with similar troubled backgrounds led Steve to do his best to support them too. It was using his life experience, and a determination to complete and pass a Level 1 Certificate in dry stone walling at the Derbyshire Eco Centre, that led to Ingeus offering Steve a new career.
He is part of the team delivering the year-long Landscape Therapy contract, teaching former offenders heritage skills in walling, fencing and other outdoor crafts. The scheme is funded via HM Prison & Probation Service Co-financing Organisation (CFO), which uses European Social Fund money to move individuals in custody and the community closer to the labour market. To learn more about the work of HMPPS CFO, visit https://www.co-financing.org/
Steve now spends most of the week on the Peak District hillside, helping participants literally rebuild their futures using countryside skills that are in great demand. At the same time he is offering them support as somebody who has been there, done that.
He says: “I think seeing me gives them hope. When they are blinded by it all, when they can’t see where life is going and think there is no way out, I say: ‘You are looking at the way out. This can happen to you.’”
Now Steve is looking ahead with more optimism than he has had for a long time: “It took a few years but after my drinking relapses ended I decided I was done with alcohol. I’d been to hell with it and I’ve never looked back.
“I’ve got a job, greater stability and more confidence in myself. It’s fantastic.”
Steve Hampton, Ingeus Project Manager for the Fit For Work scheme, adds: “A lot of the participants have been told in the past that they will never amount to anything. The Landscape Therapy course makes them stronger physically and mentally to carry on with their lives. I really believe that being out in the open air helps to clear their minds.”