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Prisoners are building eco-homes across the South-West

Prisoners are now building eco-homes across the South-West in a bid to boost their skillset at the same time as tackling the housing crisis.

In a project that was initially funded by Devon and Cornwall’s PCC, Alison Hernandez, prisoners are now building environmentally-friendly eco-pod homes and getting paid to do so.

Devon and Cornwall’s OPCC initially provided around £100,000 funding for a pilot of the programme which is now looking at expanding across the region.

One site has been completely built as part of the pilot, while a further six are currently in construction under an order from The Diocese in Gloucester which intends to use the homes for vulnerable people. A further 60-70 potential sites have been identified.

Moving forward, the One Public Estate Programme, a partnership between the Office of Government Property in the Cabinet Office, the Local Government Association and the Department for Levelling Up, will fund setting up a strategy and framework behind the programme. They have invested £250,000.

However, the capital funding will come from individual Local Authorities who will purchase the sites to use them for a range of people, including vulnerable people, such as care leavers or domestic abuse victims, social housing or accommodation for key workers.

Prisoners will be paid by the construction company they work for at the standard salary rate. They will pay tax, national insurance and a 40 per cent victim support charge. The remainder of their salary will go into an account intended for them to use on rent or accommodation in the private sector once they have been released.

They will work between 8-4 on a full-time basis through day release. The scheme has currently fully trained four prisoners and have more in training. They have also started working with women’s prison Eastwood Park.

The project is being pushed through by the South West Reducing Reoffending Partnership which all five regional PCCs are involved with.

They hope to have delivered further homes by the end of summer. The pods are easy to relocate, built using low carbon methods and recycled materials and offer high energy efficiency to reduce energy bills.

Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and chairman of the SWRRP said: “We want to help people who have been in the prison system and make sure they have purpose both in prison and outside.

“All of our communities across the South West want to see people succeed and contribute positively to society and this is a huge opportunity to help achieve that common goal.

“This project is all about keeping people busy and giving them a purpose while providing a service that is really useful to our society. Not only does it equip prisoners with valuable skills and a great work ethic, it also creates essential housing for those who are most in need.

“I funded a successful trial in Torquay, Devon, and I am delighted the scheme is now being rolled out on a larger scale.”

To date, the scheme has worked with HMP Leyhill, where prisoners are nearing the end of their sentence.

HMP Leyhill governor, Steve Hodson, said: “I am delighted that Leyhill prisoners are gaining valuable skills to set them up for jobs on the outside, while giving back to the community.  “Preparing prisoners for the world of work is crucial to cutting reoffending and keeping the public safe.”

One prisoner involved with the programme said: “The fact it involved learning new skills, using recycled materials to create an environmentally friendly product and helping to solve the housing crisis – it ticked all of my boxes.  I’ve been doing everything from painting, scaffolding, roofing, flooring, metal construction – it’s a big team effort. 

“I’ve definitely learned new skills and gained confidence, but if we’re not totally sure about something we just put our hands up and one of the supervisors (from MMC) will step in because they have a wealth of experience.

“It’s quite hard outside going into employment, having to do disclosure and explaining where you’ve been for the past few years, so if I could get full time employment doing this it would be great.  This project is great for getting prisoners used to a day’s work, teamwork, working on your own initiative and also picking up new skills. I’m really confident that when I come out after this sentence I will make a success of my life.”

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