Transforming people through places
9 May 2023
Local residents in Durham and Teesside have a spring in their step thanks to the green-fingered efforts of offenders who have transformed previously underutilised outdoor spaces for community use.
The Greenlife Project provided 36 participants with criminal offences the opportunity to gain confidence, social skills, and horticulture qualifications, while giving back time and expertise to the community through two environmental regenerations.
Run at Eaglescliffe’s Oakwood Centre in Stockton and Arlington House in Durham, the teams’ efforts have been so well received that the project is hopeful of recognition from HMPPS’s annual Celebration of Wildlife and People, which showcases hard work and valuable biodiversity projects throughout prisons and probation services.
Reactions from residents to the now-completed projects have included ‘an amazing asset for local families’, ‘a beautiful environment’, and ‘a safe and pleasant space for local people to gather’. While for the participants, the experience has been ‘lifechanging’ and provided the realisation that ‘having good people around you can provide you with a positive outlook and greater self-belief’.
The Greenlife Project is part of CFO3, a social inclusion programme co-commissioned by His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and the European Social Fund. Its focus is to reduce reoffending by helping participants socially reintegrate; undertake training, counselling, and rehabilitation programmes; and ultimately sustain a working life. Ingeus delivers several CFO3 development fund programmes
and partners with Three13 Training and Enterprise in the North East to deliver Greenlife
In addition to learning joinery, landscaping and planting skills, support included careers information, advice and guidance sessions, and public travel expenses to the projects. Yet for Greenlife tutor John, the social impacts are all-important:
“The Greenlife Project allows people the space to realise their worth. It’s not always the practical tasks, sometimes it’s simply the teamwork that builds hope.”
Unused Oakwood reinvented
At the Oakwood centre in Teesside, Greenlife participants helped to develop a community allotment space; building poly-tunnels, raised beds, and herb garden. They also repaired paving, laid a path, and cleared access to the adjoining broadleaf woodland – a habitat of ancient trees and varied wildlife. Tees Valley Community Church, which owns the land, understands the wider social and environmental benefits of sharing it with the community, and gifted part of the woodland to Three13 to develop training and enterprise opportunities for disadvantaged local people. Produce grown on-site is used in the coffee shop and distributed to the community. The gardens offer an outdoor space to bring people, volunteers, and local schools together.
Historic Alington Gardens transformed
In the heart of Durham city centre, the Greenlife Project has been hard at work in the gardens of ancient Alington House. In 15 months, 18 participants transformed the garden, constructing raised vegetable beds and fencing, planting trees, building seating and a pergola to provide shade, and an accessible handrail to the garden. They also converted an unused cellar into a woodworking workshop for anyone needing a hobby or project to engage with. Hosted by the Alington House Community Association, produce grown in the garden will be used at the café, while a drama group for people with disabilities intend to use the garden as an outdoor theatre.
A growing legacy
“Both the projects have received a high amount of praise and attention from the local community,” according to Three13 Assistant Director, Dave Mumford.
“We support people to forget what's in the past by looking forward to what lies ahead, and these projects are testament to the hard work and skills of everyone working on them. Practical programmes like Greenlife give a great sense of achievement as participants become more confident and aware of their abilities. They provide a legacy for other local people to come and connect with nature, and potential for continued involvement through volunteering.”
Fiona Matthews, Ingeus’ Head of Delivery for CFO3 Supply Chain added: “Many of our participants were initially well out of their comfort zones but they enjoyed mixing with others and soon began to experience things they may never have before; success, teamwork, acceptance and pride in a job well done. Qualifications were awarded, paid jobs achieved, and lives changed, while also creating a positive environmental blueprint for Oakwood and Alington to develop.
“The participants, Three13 and HMPPS CFO should be very proud of this project. The union has created a legacy for the local community by protecting and preserving valuable habitats that can now be enjoyed for years to come.”