Chris’s blog: Archive

Chris Parsons is Manager of LandWorks.


 

05 March 2014 – A ripple of transformed lives

We are now into our eighth month, new trainees are joining us and the first graduates are settling into employment and work experience.

Our recent quarterly newsletter gives a very good and slightly more formal six-month update. This is a more personal review and I just want to start by saying what LandWorks does and why we exist.

Young trees planted by the trainees in the LandWorks garden
Young trees planted by the trainees in the LandWorks garden

It is entirely designed to help and support prisoners, both before and after release from prison.

This in itself causes a ripple effect coming from each man as his progression back into community begins. This ripple I believe starts to change attitudes.

I carefully plan and structure each day, importantly to replicate a full working day (often a new experience). We use landscaping as the framework and interwoven around this we build self-worth, encourage teamwork, develop social and softer skills and many other forms of personal enrichment.

I am immensely proud of the men who have committed to LandWorks (nobody has dropped out) and to changing their lives and improving our community for the better.

Some good bits

  • Watching the positive effect one man’s changed life has had on four generations of his family
  • Hearing another’s father telling his son for the first time, that he is proud of him
  • Watching and listening as a young man in a very angry state, calmed down, listened and accepted advice from others and avoided reoffending
  • Listening to men talk openly (often for the first time) about their victims, their desire for reparation and confessing to making the most awful mistakes
  • A degree of satisfaction as slowly the professional services start to take the project seriously and want to be part of it
  • Absolute satisfaction when a new visitor comes to LandWorks, and in minutes just gets ‘it’ and then wants to be involved and help
  • Listening to a new trainee exclaiming that he can’t believe that X has managed to do six months at LandWorks and turned his life around…“That’s just brilliant, X was a real proper loser”
  • Working with most extraordinary and dedicated people

Some tricky bits

  • Watching almost helpless, as a man makes a decision, to use heroin again or not (thankfully not)
  • Holding another man as he sobbed uncontrollably, telling me why he hated himselfListening to stories of prison life and the extreme levels of violence
  • Working out that the cost of one man’s stealing before prison was approximately £200k per year
  • The completely ludicrous and desperate situation of no benefit money, or any other assistance for four weeks after release from prison
  • Worrying about how we are going to continue to find funding for this great project. We operate on an absolute shoestring and achieve a lot on relatively little…

but don’t worry – I have a plan.

Over the next few months, we hope to secure enough financial commitments to give us security for the next five years, so we can really get going, increase numbers and develop LandWorks into a project that will become self-financing and in the end help us all.

I hope this will be considered as an investment in community.

We need £150k per year.

It could be in the form of monthly donations or large annual contributions. Every bit will help; don’t worry I will go on about this a lot more! Details of how to donate can be found here.

Chris

And remember…

  • Please keep forwarding this email onto others who can register to become a LandWorks supporter by clicking here
  • We are having an event for our supporters on Thursday 15 May (14.00-16.00) so if you can make it, please save the date!

 

24 February 2014 – It’s a team effort – but Dave’s no help

It’s 6.45am. The phone rings. A strong northern accent is saying “Dave, Dave, it’s f*#king peeing down, I can’t walk to the f*#king bus in this Dave, I can’t.”

A reasonable enough request – a 45-minute walk in torrential rain to travel 50 minutes on a bus, soaking wet, all to get to LandWorks on a voluntary basis on your second day was asking a lot. We agreed to talk in an hour.

Storm clouds and yellow umbrella by bench

The night before I had a different kind of conversation with my mum – she was concerned that my updates made it sound, a little, all about me: “Not a criticism, but shouldn’t you talk about all the others who help?”.

I pointed out that it was just me – at the coal face, so to speak. I suspect, not wanting to hear this, Mum just said: “It can’t be”.

Actually she has a point. Although primarily on my own, the LandWorks team (Celia, Sarah and Steve) provide tremendous off-site support; volunteers help with picking men up from prison and joining in activities.

Students and staff from Plymouth University help evaluate and record the project. Mic Chambers comes in on a Thursday and gets everyone doing amazing things with wood! Art students join us and just do amazing things!

Security men from the estate call in or wave as they pass by; we nearly always have guests for lunch and Schumacher College provide a different vegetable soup and fresh bread for the guys every day.

The guys themselves have become so proud of the project that they effectively self-police it.

Before anyone mentions health and safety, we have a plan in place; we all know what to do if there is a problem and to top it all I am now a qualified first aider.

So I don’t feel alone and the good news (mum) is that we are just about to advertise for an assistant (more info coming soon…).

“Dave, I’m on the bus, it’s eased off a bit.”
“Ah that’s great” I replied, and paused. “It’s Chris.”
“Oh f*#k. Sorry mate”.

Chris

PS…

Thanks to everyone who forwarded my last blog, we’ve already got lots of new people signed up which is great. But the challenge to increase numbers is still on!

So, if you know someone who might be interested in LandWorks, please do forward this email and they can register their details by clicking here – easy!

And for those interested in reading my previous blogs, you can find them all here.


19 February 2014 – The curious incident of the chainsaw trousers

The trousers in question are a rather old tatty pair of protective leggings worn when strimming back overgrowth.

The disappearance occurred around the night of the…er…to be honest we have no idea; we all vaguely agree that they were there one day and now they are not (cue dramatic music in background).

Chris Parsons at LandWorks
Chris Parsons at LandWorks

So I foolishly suggested that perhaps one of the guys out on release had worn them home by mistake. I was immediately in big trouble, on a couple of counts, ‘m’lud’:

1. Old ripped padded trousers are clearly not a designer label item, thus would never be worn on the streets of Torquay…. “I only wear Ralphie”

2. “Chris…you think I nicked ‘em?”

Ah! This was a little more delicate: “no I absolutely don’t think they were nicked”, I replied, and I really don’t. We have many more useful and valuable things to remove. But oh, what a quick way to break down months of building team spirit and trust!

Suspicion is like wildfire and everyone was in the frame – including me, and they’re my blinking trousers!

To make matters worse the next day we had a scheduled visit from a probation officer and two plain clothes coppers, actually I think they were a bit more senior, not that their rank made any difference to our rumour mill, we were off.

It became quite clear that this offence was linked, if not the cause of the recent prison riots, general moral decay and the ‘nicked’ trousers were just the tip of the iceberg. This was turning into a Sherlock Holmes three-pipe case!

Well Watson as you can see, quite curious – the level of paranoia and suspicion was extraordinary. Or perhaps not if as a child you watched dad, uncle or your brother being removed time and time again from your home by the police and you have little faith in the justice system.

So imagine the general relief when the trousers were spotted hanging on a nearby gatepost. It appears they literally fell off the back of lorry or at least my van roof. Somebody, absolutely no names…must have left them on the blinking van!

Oh how we laughed!

Chris (aka Sherlock)


 

4 February 2014 – Different worlds collide

A few months ago, one Thursday morning at about 11:30, I began to worry; perhaps this particular idea wasn’t going to work.

It had been a slightly tricky start to the day – a bit of early grumpiness, with a grudge against society on the side and a light sprinkling of other problems on top.

The 'shit' garden at LandWorks
The ‘shit’ garden at LandWorks

At 12:30 we had three enthusiastic, upwardly mobile art students arriving for lunch and potentially embarking on a six-month placement working with us.

Absolutely fundamental to LandWorks is a belief in social inclusion and a recognition that it doesn’t just happen; you have to nurture, encourage and let it grow.

All very easy to plan but sometimes a bit nerve-racking putting into practice – and it’s so, so much easier to be jolly clever and just point out social exclusion rather than do anything about it…I thought, as they walked through the open gate.

But as project highlights go, this is really up there. As you have guessed they all got on very well. Two very different worlds sat down to lunch and within minutes were swapping life stories and experiences.

Discovering that people had been to the same school, learning how our guys feel in prison and lots of really normal life stuff was swapped. Great ideas started to flow, all wanting to create a piece of art together, for some this is a completely new form of expression.

This was suddenly starting to work on many levels – not least the strength and confidence gained from just feeling accepted.

Now we meet up once a week and a lot happens. Everyone joins in with the current work projects and we find time to progress art in its many varied forms (the above image shows how the ‘bad garden’ is shaping up).

I am astonished at how much has been achieved and how well everyone gets on; it’s a great credit to them all.

Social exclusion has been debated quite a lot recently with Benefits Street making the headlines. In the end it’s inclusion that makes the difference – how we get there is the challenge!

– Chris Parsons, Project Manager Dartington LandWorks


 

23 January 2014 – Post-prison challenges

Down our Job Centre this Wednesday, there was a bit of a kerfuffle.

A man, officially described as having a ‘crisis” was removed by the police, after he very vocally and graphically expressed his frustration at the system.

I don’t suppose he is alone.

Our most recent man on release from prison is also experiencing difficulties with this system. In the past he was drug, crime and benefit dependent; he is now trying very hard just to be independent.

This time he has declined the opportunity to sign on as ‘sick’ (as an ex-addict he can be sick for 6 months); he set out with the attitude of wanting a job.

He left prison on 6th December with £47 and a small bag of clothes. He did not receive anything more for over 3 weeks. Benefit money will now only be transferred into a bank account (no cash) – tricky if you don’t have one, and increasingly difficult to get one with very limited ID. There was a national emergency fund but this stopped last year.

There is clearly a difference between a benefit dependency trap and the stark staringly obvious impossible situation of no money. As ‘crisis’ man shouted on Wednesday afternoon: “What the f#*k am I supposed to do?” – he’s got a point.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the re-offending figures are at their highest over the first few weeks of release.

The modern computer system at the Job Centre is good, the staff are really helpful and actually there are loads of jobs, honestly lots of jobs. I don’t want to sound all Daily Newspaper about this but something here is not quite joining up.

Maybe I am missing something but forcing somebody into an impossible situation is surely counter-productive and absolutely different from encouraging and supporting a person into work, work that as far as I can tell, is out there!

Fortunately LandWorks – as part of our ‘release bridge’ scheme – was able to offer support – and not only did he make it through the Christmas period unscathed, he is now taking part in useful work experience placements and this week submitted a job application.

Chris


 

16 January 2014 – Did you say ‘sharp tools’?

I always like questions about LandWorks; they are a good test of the project. The New Year period provided plenty, so I thought you might find this a useful reflection on the scheme.

The questions are as varied as the inquisitors themselves: some incisive, and some I just assumed to be a joke.

Q: “It’s the victims I worry about – you’re not much help to them.”
A: I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that; these men’s crimes undoubtedly had victims, which is often not considered at all.

Trainee's glove and nails
Trainee’s glove and nails

On this project I often suspect something quite fundamental occurs: men are able to discuss (perhaps for the first time) what effect they have had on others, accept responsibility and begin to believe a life without crime is possible.

You could argue that this project is helping to reduce victims in the future. So it does help, in the bigger picture.

Q: “Did you say ‘sharp tools’?”
A: Yes, I did.

Q: “So are you saving us all money?”
A: Yes, I think so. Very roughly, one of our guys’ criminal activity was costing approximately £100,000 per year or £67,000 to prosecute and hold in prison for a year.

The estimate cost of overall reoffending per year is about £10 billion. We cost a tiny fraction of this, so LandWorks is saving money and is good value.

Q: “But does it really work?”
A: So far, so good – but it’s not straightforward and definitely not ‘one size fits all’.

One man can arrive with a variety of difficulties, quite different from another – but I think we are making a positive difference, not just to individuals involved but increasingly to their families and the wider community. A small, but evident, ripple.

Q: “Wow…has it ever all really kicked off?”
A: No.

Q: “How are you funded?”
A: We are running on an absolute shoestring; for the first two years developing the project there was hardly any income.

The Dartington Hall Trust has been very supportive; we’ve secured some income from other Trust funds and our local community have funded over 50% of the first full working year.

It’s not easy and we are looking at many ways to try and secure the future of LandWorks.

Q: “Aren’t there lots of these projects?”
A: They are few and far between, and certainly none in this area.

We are only a few miles from our local prison and urban sprawl. It is this tranquil location that allows us a great opportunity to get men into a different environment, free from their normal pressures.

Yet the Dartington estate is a busy, vibrant and an inspirational place. Many of our trainees would have felt excluded from this rather middle-class environment, so I believe it is here that we really start to breakdown barriers.

Q: “Okay, but is this really pioneering, you know – unique?”
A: I believe elements are:

• There is an opportunity to join while still in prison and remain on the project for another three months after release, bridging this difficult period
• We combine not just employment training and qualifications but equally importantly we deliver softer skills, develop self-worth and social skills, and promote a holistic approach
• Our environment, as part of Dartington, is unique

Q: “Oh gosh – do they all arrive with a ball and chain?”
A: No, they don’t (quiet sigh).

Chris


 

07 January 2014 – The power of change

“I think I’ve started to like myself” one man recently told me, and others have voiced similar sentiments.

There is a commonality to much of what has and is happening. A type of metamorphosis – not as exact or organic as a pupa to a butterfly, and no doubt more psychologically complex – but nevertheless a metamorphosis it is.

LandWorks Gloves
LandWorks Gloves

This explanation is my own view and does not apply to all in prison. The early stages of this transformation may occur in the first part of a sentence. Initially and perhaps surprisingly (it was to me) there can be very real anger towards the victim(s), who are often blamed for just about everything going.

Critically, for some, around this period a realisation sets in about just what has happened, who has been affected and they take the first faltering steps towards responsibility.

Letters of apology can be written and even a face-to-face arranged, but not often. It seems to me that until this projected anger is dealt with, moving forward is difficult and some waste an entire sentence twisted in anger and never getting to this stage.

For a few comes a moment, a split second, an epiphany…when there is a full realisation that life must change, that this present life is awful, destructive, violent, lonely, frightening and is devoid of human emotion.

A new person can start to emerge… almost certainly this new person existed before but never had much of a chance to be seen, hidden behind an emotional armour, with drugs, alcohol and anger blocking so much.

Difficult and impossible expectations emerge: “Because I have stepped up and tried to change…everything will be rosy, life will be a sugar-coated loveliness and the world really owes me because I have changed and I expect it all now”.

Suddenly into this complex transformation emerges more difficulty. Do you actually like the new emerging person, the new you, with feelings and emotions? How easy it would be just to be the old person – to reach out and grab that familiar comfortable default position?

Of course not only prisoners but also many people from all walks of life reach these epiphany moments, when they realise that change must come from them. If they are fortunate their metamorphosis may well be supported.

I think society expects a lot of a prisoner who reaches this turning point to manage this through the rest of the prison sentence with limited support – and who is then pushed out of the door, back into society, with little or no help.

Now before everyone gets a bit ahead of themselves, I probably should say that at LandWorks, we are not knee deep in discarded chrysalis, nor have we had an outbreak of fluttering, but being able to articulate that you feel okay about yourself, is a pretty good metaphorical spreading of wings.

Chris


 

17 December 2013 – Life begins at forty

The project was recently described as having “some magic quality”, which I am sure is a compliment, but for me a troubling one.

I think generally our visitors see us at our best, which I agree is a mark of how far the guys and the project has developed. There is a lot of other stuff that goes on…

I have met some very motivated members of staff in prison who really do care about resettlement. However the Prison system itself gets hold of not particularly motivated individuals and completely removes the last fragments of their drive and ambition.

The system is incredibly good at building up resentment and excels in the promotion of the art of doing nothing or even better how to find the best way to do less than nothing.

One of our big challenges is to undo all this and get men to understand that it is okay to put in some effort; work is acceptable, rewarding and even enjoyable.

I am reflecting on all this because our first trainee has graduated and is now living back in our community. He is 40 and announced at the end of his first day that he had never worked, ever. We toasted him on his last day that life begins at 40. He has certainly worked over the last few months and it has been wonderful to see him get involved, find confidence to talk to others, help and support colleagues, produce work of great quality and to show us all what a decent man he is.

Although he has graduated and now living in the big world he is able to stay with us for another 3 months. We have developed the “bridge period” to support the very difficult and pressured time immediately after release.

He is going to take part in various work placements and experiences to help expand his employment opportunities and actively seek work.

Over the last few months sometimes it has seemed like baby steps, changing the focus away from idleness to showing somebody that life can be a fulfilling experience, it is not magic it’s bloody hard work for everybody.

Chris


 

3 December 2013 – A special advent edition

The LandWorks advent calendar has another very important date on it.

As you know the first of our guys is coming up to release and this date is clearly marked. A Christmas party is being planned, so it is all starting to feel a bit festive.

I have declined all the kind offers of brewing up a bit of “Jail House Hooch”, although I quite accept the replacement offering of Elderflower cordial, also made locally, is not quite as exciting, but at least we will have a better than 50% chance of retaining eyesight over the festive period!

Crimbo inside is not quite as jolly as Ronnie Barker’s Porridge would have had us believe, all those years ago. I know that most will just want to get to the New Year.

Christmas is of course billed as a time for family and so is generally pretty grim inside; a lot of men turn to something a bit stronger than “JH Hooch” to get/numb them over the holiday period.

Our portacabin is being transformed; the tree is up and a homemade fairy precariously rammed home on the top, affectionately called No 1 Gov (not specific to any particular Prison Governor!).

The first decoration up was a friendly looking Father Christmas, nicknamed “nonce”, who fairly quickly had to be removed! To be honest there is rarely a day that goes by without some discussion about sex offenders. I should add it’s not a particularly open-minded discussion… perhaps partly because they feel there is somebody in society judged to be worse than them and I suspect partly because many inside have themselves been the victims of abuse. This continually proves to be a really difficult subject.

Present giving will be a little limited but we intend to do something. Last year on the big day, I am told “Her Majesty’s Hotel” provided a single square slice of cold turkey with a trimming, all served at 11am! But then I know that they have to work within the HMP daily budget of £1.83 for 3 meals/day/man…

If you are looking for presents…then go no further than the Quarry Field Emporium open Monday to Thursday and absolutely no late night shopping. We have some lovely wooden candleholders; an array of Xmas benches, bird nesting boxes and many cute wooden animals, really much cuter than anything John Lewis could ever knowingly do (scroll down for photos). All created from local timber, made with love and pride and they can be yours for a donation to LandWorks.

Look forward to seeing you, just ring the bell at the gate and one of us will pop along.

Chris


 

21 November 2013 – New garden, new life?

‘Expressions’, the LandWorks garden, is now underway.

The outside perimeter has been fenced, work has begun on “sh*t or bad” garden and the pond that divides “good” from “bad” has been excavated.

Work is only interrupted by periodic shouts of “Yes, only 18 days to go!” followed by an excited whooping noise.

The first of our cohort is coming up for release and yes you guessed it…only 18 days to go and counting.

The garden represents the journey from a difficult past to a more stable and tranquil future. Interestingly the ideas for “sh*t” garden have been non-stop and the design completed with ease but when it comes to “good” garden, hmmm, not so easy and nobody is very sure about how to approach this, a new and unfamiliar concept.

Mr. ’18 days to go’ is genuinely excited but he is equally as worried. Just what will happen?

Well he won’t be going home now or for Christmas…He can’t return to his neighbourhood. Rightly or wrongly he is not allowed back for another 18 months. Of course this decision was made pre-sentencing, well over 2 years ago and will not be reviewed.

At that time, I suppose no-one could have foreseen how things would turn out, so, all the more to his credit, that he has managed to turn his life around, not given up and still plans to have a family Christmas.

He is preparing for a new start. He wants to settle locally, find new friends and get a job. I guess we all can imagine or know how difficult this can be. LandWorks will help as much as possible and we are doing all that we can…

If you could help with the garden or beyond I have listed below a few possibilities…

• Could you offer time to be involved with the garden construction, planting, ideas and working with everyone, perhaps one or two days a month?
• Financially we have some money for the garden but still need about £600
• Could you perhaps offer a bit of time to support/mentor/buddy a LandWorks graduate?
• Or perhaps help with or advise on local accommodation, now or in the future?

I am hoping the future experiences of Mr. “only 18 days” will play a part in the design of “good” garden.’

Chris


 

11 November 2013 – Power lunching

LandWorks are now the proud owners of four hens, kindly donated this week.

All are laying and rather touchingly named after each man. This has led to much speculation about who will be eaten first and, in what I assume to be a gentle dig at our predominantly veg lunch… how much everyone is looking forward to eating the other’s bird, cooked in a variety of quite peculiar and unusual ways!

These hilarious jokes thankfully came to a natural conclusion, as the first plate of scrambled eggs was served up.

Our lunch has become an absolutely essential ingredient in how this project works, it brings together so many fundamentals that we often take for granted, or to a certain extent, may even be missing out on, in our own lives.

Most days we have an invited guest or two, anyone who is interested in the project, some have now visited a few times and are considered to be regular diners.

Recently we have started to invite local employers to lunch. An opportunity for them to get an understanding of the project and for us, a chance to find out what they are looking for in an employee, make links and hopefully paving the way to future employment.

All done sitting around the table sharing lunch… it is such a normal thing to do, to just sit down and eat with others…

But of course it is not the norm to sit down and eat with a bunch of prisoners, nor for a prisoner to sit down with people who until a few months ago may never have had any engagement.

This works both ways, it can be fantastic, it can be harsh, it can be very moving, and many life stories unfold in this atmosphere. Increasingly, especially as our regulars return, it becomes just normal and I think this normality is one of the keys to rehabilitation, for all of us to play a part, even down to scrubbing scrambled egg from the pan…

Chris Parsons, Project Manager LandWorks Manager


 

24 October 2013 – A different sort of Friday

Very often the week is over too quickly and I am aware the prison weekend has increasingly become a slow drag of utter boredom.

We regularly finish the week on a bit of a high, that ‘Friday feeling’ causing laughter on the journey back; we drive straight past the busy pubs and go directly to jail, often still laughing… It’s not really the way to arrive!

Monday morning journeys to LandWorks can be accompanied with a dose of the blues; a result from mind numbing jail boredom, quite often the resettlement unit has been subjected to a weekend lock down.

A mixture of trouble on the main prison wings and staff shortages, mean officers are required elsewhere. The most responsible and deemed safest 30 men out of the 800 are locked up in the resettlement unit because by default they require less supervision. Hmmm!

There is often talk about how the atmosphere in jail can change rapidly. In minutes the institutions’ blood pressure can rise and trouble is on its way. Officers and prisoners all talk of this, they sense it and can feel it before it happens.

LandWorks has certainly experienced similar feelings, of course very small scale and nowhere near as extreme but certainly quick, dark and disturbing.

In general I look over a scene of men working, engaged and really being creative. Conversation is woven through all this; problems are now openly thrown into the mix and talk can range from last night’s rubbish food to feelings towards victims.

If one man is having a difficult time others now rally to his support… stuff, really difficult stuff is explored and looked at.

Very occasionally more than one person arrives with more than one immediate problem. The sort of problems that on the outside could be really difficult… are practically impossible inside prison.

This clash of problems can suddenly send people into a spiral; slightly disturbingly it is quick and drags in nearly everyone; they all know this well rehearsed routine and suddenly they are wading in a familiar treacle of self doubt, anger and pity.

I have found that shock tactics are the best solution, only last week and admittedly slightly in desperation after a long morning of talking it all over, I found myself threatening to stand on a table and sing and dance unless the conversation changed and the mood lifted. Fortunately so far nobody has called my bluff and by the end of the day there was laughter again.

Chris


 

23 October 2013 – Hitting benchmarks

Among the varied work activities at LandWorks, we have been making bespoke benches and everyone has made at least one.

Local timber is cut, worked and honed in our new and rather lovely self-built, timber ‘A’ frame shelter/workshop. The benches are good quality and everyone plans to take one home, a real mark of achievement and for all a first.

These benches are genuinely made with love, sweat and tears. The tears from sheer exasperation, feelings and emotions seem to pour out, years of frustration and self-doubt can be dramatically let loose…

A saw whistles through the air, a hammer smashes into the ground and loud expletives clearly explain that not all is going well and amongst other things suggests I may need to revisit the risk assessment!

I have a completely homespun and probably highly inaccurate theory, but… people who enter the penal system at a young age, are in many different ways, frozen in time, missing out on great chunks of development.

These same people reappear in later life still grappling with teenage desires, impulses and even tantrums… seemingly odd behaviour for a 30-year-old man and certainly easily misunderstood.

Benches can be built in a relatively short space of time and the end result provides an instant thrill but also something of real worth. I suspect this gratification helps to fill a void for an ex-heroin addict and satisfies the trapped inner teenager.

As with many things we do here, there are tense, faltering starts, even complete collapse, but we manage to move on. Slowly confidence builds and then suddenly not only are items of great beauty appearing but also people are so engaged, wanting to do more and feeling good, very good.

Hard work, sweat and thought have caused the bench designs to evolve. Skill levels have risen, wood is now worked for hours, all to reach a new found quality standard.

Oak is painstakingly sanded to a mirror finish, great pride is taken in achieving new shapes, and beautifully oiled surfaces are compared and discussed. The more experienced amongst the guys are now stepping up to help, reassure and encourage the others.

Built with Love and now… For Sale.

– Chris Parsons, Project Manager Dartington LandWorks


 

20 September 2014 – The struggle to be yourself

There is an element to LandWorks that was always hoped for but could never really be planned for… People getting involved and just being themselves.

This is very much the case. We have people who come for lunch, just visit or even work with us. I want to highlight this because I suspect the people involved have no idea the effect they have had… it is just absolutely second nature to them, but it has had a profound effect on the guys.

I want to share three examples of this, from the last month or so…

A few weeks ago one of our trainees was feeling quite low, really worried about an on-going heath issue, hospital and some surgery, he was scared.

Whilst picking up the day’s food for LandWorks, he bumped into somebody who has already joined us for lunch. She listened to his worries and just instinctively hugged him, holding him for a while. So simple but it made such a difference to him.

During our launch event one of the guys understandably felt a little shy. A regular LandWorks visitor popped into the portacabin to find him and took the time to be a “buddy”, both walked out into the crowd and chatted to people together.

This simply was able to happen because a feeling of trust had formed, over lunch and on previous visits… If you have been let down constantly in your life, trust is a very big issue.

Two people have stepped in to do some of the driving between HMP Channings Wood and Quarry field. Just as you would give a lift to a work colleague or a friend and it is this normality, the daily chat, the start/end of the day stuff we all do, that just makes these guys feel part of everyday life… one less judgement on them and their past.

I am sure all the above is just what these people do, naturally… for another human.

I do wonder if this also speaks to the wider debate about how society considers prisoners and their resettlement. Perhaps the term prisoner or offender is too often used as a convenient label to stop us thinking about people as fellow humans?

Involving people from every walk of life is just brilliant, no barriers and everyone gets such a lot from these interactions. I know a lot more of you want to get involved, which is great and really is one of the strengths of this project.

We are very keen to find somebody who could take on the LandWorks website, bring it up to date, offer new ideas and look after it. Please do just email me about this or any other involvement and we can pick it up from there.

Chris


 

19 September 2013 – A successful launch!

Our launch on Friday went very well, a really great turn out and the promised wet weather arrived too late to bother us. Thank you so much to everyone involved.

The speeches from Sarah Wollaston MP, Erwin James (Author and Guardian columnist) and one of our trainees from Channings Wood gave us all a clear reminder of the difficulties in trying to change your life but equally offered hope and emphasised the important work that LandWorks is doing to help people back into community and employment.

I felt it was a great success that people wanted to engage with the guys and just as importantly they themselves really wanted to talk and felt confident enough to do so.

Man walking through fieldTwo months ago this just would not have happened. In this short time their confidence, self-worth and belief in themselves has grown… they really wanted to show you what they had created, that they could take part and I think everyone saw how hard they were trying.

So that’s all great, Quarry Field is a lovely safe haven but it’s not quite the real world is it… It is absolutely a place to help you find your way into life, to feel that you are okay, you’re not worthless and you can be accepted for who you are by people who frankly a few months ago might as well have lived on a different planet.

As I say all great… But what happens next? What happens when they fall over? How will they get a job?

I am not attempting to turn out a constant stream of gardeners, nor I am pretending that our trainees will be so advantaged as to just walk into a top job…. but LandWorks is able to help people who may never have worked before, get up to speed, to calm down and just think things through, to understand the importance of being a team player, taking responsibility, to know what hard graft feels like, that it’s okay and actually feels good…. gaining employability skills.

Next month we are having our first employers’ breakfast – we have been approached by quite a number of businesses who want to engage with the project. It will be a chance for them to see what is happening, meet the guys and for us a chance to understand their needs as employers.

The world beyond LandWorks will of course be difficult… but if we can reduce the belief that society hates you and help you to believe in yourself, it is possible that you can deal with the difficulties ahead.

Chris


 

9 September 2013

Last reminder about the launch day, this Friday, the 13th September, starting at 12noon.

There is a lot in place, four men have worked very hard, certainly have sense of ownership and would like to show you our base at Quarry field.

The behind the scenes team have also been hard at it, to make this a memorable event… Worth remembering that this is an outdoor event! (that said, if the weather is really very bad, we will move it indoors to the nearby Foxhole builiding, and we will make sure everyone is clearly signposted there)

The LandWorks Garden has progressed from initial ideas to working plans and the ideas have been coming thick and fast.

The finished garden will be open to the public and will be a lasting testimony to everyone who has taken part in the project. A rare mark of longevity in what are often chaotic lives. Somewhere for them to bring family and friends and a lasting and growing achievement.

So the basic plan came out of everyone shouting ideas at me. I listened, to be honest, in absolute horror, “We want a sh. t garden, upturned trolleys… broken glass, needles… a garden that shows our background”. Trying to join in and wondering just what I had unleashed, I suggested that a trolley could be a sort of trellis, er perhaps… No response, they were on a roll “We want water, a pond… yeah it’s got to reflect over to a beautiful garden that shows where we are going”.
Now that is an idea that is powerful and that is a real gut felt expression. In its basic form – from bad to good. A troubled start in life finding a way to stability, all captured in a garden. Hmmm.

I am now looking for rusting corrugated metal sheets to make the fence for the bad garden and trying to find funds for a pond liner to create the water to reflect onto the good garden. I suspect the rusting corrugated will not be too difficult but the pond liner is more important, so if anyone is feeling inspired and generous I would love to hear from you.

The garden has a working title of “Expressions”.

Chris


 

28 August 2013

This update is about two quite different aspects of LandWorks.The first examines the mix in our cohort…one man out in the community on release, I shall call him R. Three others… day release on temporary licence (ROTL).
The second part of the update promotes a fundraising initiative involving delicious cake.

LandWorks Mix.
I recognise much of R’s life, similar to many of my previous experiences. The guys on ROTL are different… Retuning to prison everyday and living in a most awful situation, but strangely cushioned, certainly out of step with the world and yet weirdly protected. All of them preparing for R’s life outside.
The day of release for many is massive, disorientating and is often accompanied with an impossible demand of life…perhaps really a demand of society, to somehow make it okay.. Now!
Conversely the reverse applies to many still inside, for some there is even a sense of relief that the turmoil of life in the real world is suspended.

So the mix… it could of course have been very difficult, but it’s just not. It works well. They all know people, have common connections, similar experiences, deep understanding and a natural bond. Yet it is not that simple… R is out there, struggling with their fears of release. R becomes the spokesperson for all men on release; it jolts and jars the others who return to prison everyday.
R brings a taste of how it’s going to be to those waiting for it to happen. For R, the man already out there, it provides a comfort and a confidence, that he is really doing it… Not messing up. For those still inside it provides a taste of realty, a glimpse of the future. Perhaps helping reduce the fears and intensity of their forthcoming release.

Cake.

Another type of mix! This is a wonderful idea from Deborah Fox who works in the Social Justice dept at Dartington. Deboarah has orgainsed …A bring and buy cake sale on the 3rd of Sept, with all donations going to LandWorks. It is not just the financial support, which is of course so important, but the overall support to the project is quite priceless.

Chris


 

15 August 2013

I am replying to a recent question… Chris, how’s it all going?

Well we are three weeks on. It has been absolutely the best 3 weeks work I have ever done, for some of the guys it has been absolutely the first 3 weeks work they have ever done. It is hard graft and fair to say we all leave the site tired but everyday there is a real sense of achievement.

The day starts with a group meeting, primarily to plan the day ahead but inevitably and importantly problems and worries are often aired. We have also used these times to draw up and agree a set of ground rules. Now proudly displayed on the wall, I have noticed that visitors seem particularly interested in the “what do you expect from the manager” section!

The day’s work is really only interrupted with our lunch break. A real mainstay of the project. The table is laid and often a plastic bottle vase with flowers appears to help set the scene. A guest or two arrives. Due to popularity, it’s reservations only I’m afraid. We always have a soup, then a mixture of salads and whatever our guests have chosen to share. Conversation is varied, interesting, sometimes heated and at times certainly emotional.

Toward the end of the day we all have various chores to complete, the site, building, dishes and kitchen have to be tidy and generally washed down. The feeling of belonging is as strong as it is important. I have recently purchased an alphabet branding iron – simply spell out you name with little steel letters on the end of the branding iron, heat it up and then burn your name onto our LandWorks wall. To qualify for this most prestigious of groups you must put in a month of commitment.

 

Chris


 

5 August 2013

M&S– in a generous attempt to jog any stragglers into replying to our launch day invites – have offered to provide the buffet food for the event, a delicious array of sandwiches and nibbles. Seriously it would be very helpful to let us know if you can or can’t make it on Sept 13th and this really is a wonderful offer from M&S.

No 4– This week saw the arrival of our 4th LandWorks member. He worked hard, joined in and by the end of the day had a big smile on his face. He proudly announced that that was his first days work ever and he has just turned 40.

Quarry Field – our base is coming along nicely, we are turning every piece of work into a learning experience, recording and documenting, eventually all adding up to a qualification. The buildings are painted outside, steps constructed, an outdoor wash area for tools and equipment has been completed, a earth and rubber tyre wall is underway and paths are being laid.

Prison Visit– as part of the ongoing security and risk management strategy, HMP officers periodically arrive unannounced to check up on us all. This occurred mid week and all went well and we have subsequently had some very posive feedback from HMP Channings Wood.

Volunteers– You are not forgotten and please do get in contact if you would like to come for a taster session. Perhaps starting at the end of this month an hour or two just to get the feel of it all, before committing to longer if you think its for you.

Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about these updates, very nice to know that you like them so much, I will soon send them out every fortnight, rather than weekly. Unless you tell me otherwise.

Chris


 

30 July 2013

We are now into the second week, slightly more testing weather but fortunately we finished waterproofing the portacabins last week and we are still dry.

I thought I would just note a few things that have caught my attention and are hopefully of interest to you as well..

LandWorks -our LandWorks shirts have been incredibly useful… we instantly become a team and not just a bunch of prisoners.

Food – eating together has already become very important and popular, we all get a lot from this time and it is interesting how quickly this has become part of the day when chat flows freely.

Punishment – this is mentioned in one form or another nearly every day by the guys. It is a big issue for everybody, it seems they are constantly reminded they are being punished and added to this, they feel society is judging them… I have often wondered when does this stop and allow you to move on?

The LandWorks garden – we have had some really great ideas coming forward for this.The brief is that everyone who takes part in the project will play a part in developing the garden. A legacy that will remain at Dartington, something of long term value, this is so often missing from their lives. Often the guys feel little control over their lives and have done nothing of any real value. I have been very struck by the passion, interest and powerful suggestions that have come forward for the garden design. If I am honest I wasn’t at all sure this idea would work… it will be hard to stop it now.

Driving – I couldn’t quite work out why everybody looked so worried as we drove steadily (at least I thought so) towards Dartington from Channings Wood… Was my driving really that bad? People were noticeably hanging on to handles and gripping seat belts. A day or two later the answer came out… of course it was blindingly obvious once you knew. After 3 years inside, everything seems to move really really fast.

Ingenuity – how to survive a long prison sentence. Somethings I don’t need or want to know but others are fascinating. For example, how to cook a Madras curry, in your prison cell kettle! We may write up a LandWorks recipe book!!

Planning – for the last 22 mths we have been planning this project. Not completely by choice but more an opportunity created by the time consuming process of gaining funding… However a lot of careful planning is no bad thing and we are certainly off to a smooth start.


 

23 July 2013 – Day One Special Edition

First Day

As I drove to HMP Channings Wood this morning, I have to admit to a few nerves and vaguely wondering if this was all such a good idea after all.

So at 8.32am the big Prisons doors opened and out stepped our guys smiling but looking a little worried themselves, in minutes we were chatting away…

The first part of the morning was taken up with general admin and a lot of discussion about the project, establishing ground rules, how hot it was and that the entire Prison had been on bang up (locked in) all weekend until 3pm on Sunday, because of an incident on another wing.

The first coats of paint have been applied to the Portacabin… a lovely magnolia, chosen by Travis Perkins who provided this paint for us. The chat continued as we worked, just normal stuff, broken occasionally by a more difficult story.

Meals on Feet, is a great success. Although for the first one we drove down in the van, tomorrow we will be on foot. The food is provided by the Schumacher Kitchen, to help us get going until we can do our own cooking and is a wonderful vegetarian meal. As you can imagine very different from the normal Prison rations. I think this really helped to set the LandWorks ethos, we ate together around a table in dappled shade and the everyone helped to tidy up.

This afternoon we discussed and produced a fairly demanding schedule of works for the next few months. Everyone is motivated and certainly finished the day tired but pleased with their efforts.

So it was a good idea after all.

Chris

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