Volunteer blog: LandWorks, two years on
As well as helping put together the all-new newsletter for LandWorks, volunteer Gill looks back on the project’s first two years.
LandWorks began in July 2013, with an overgrown quarry site, a bold vision and a huge amount of hope.
We wanted to create a land-based training and support scheme to help former offenders find new lives without crime. By July 2013, we were ready to welcome our first four trainees. Now, two years on, it seems an appropriate time to take stock of our progress, and to remind you ─ our brilliant team of volunteers and supporters ─ of just how far we have come.
From a single polytunnel, donated by the Friends of Dartington, our veg-growing enterprise has proliferated under the tender care of Team Leader, Mark Mitchell and our trainees. In August 2014 we began our first vegetable sales and in May of this year, set up our market stall at the Quarry Field. Our next goal is to increase production to a small commercial scale by taking on a new piece of land adjacent to LandWorks. Critically, in the course of time, this will provide full-time employment for some of our graduates at the next vital stage of their new lives.
It has been an amazing two years, and we couldn’t have done it without you.
Alongside our market garden we are helping our trainees to acquire new skills in carpentry (supported by our brilliant Woodwork Trainer, Will) and landscaping. Our self-build workshop is taking magnificent shape, and next up is a new kitchen where we can teach the trainees valuable cooking skills. Art and creativity are actively encouraged and it’s wonderful to see the trainees so thoughtfully engaged with making the artworks and installations that so enrich the Quarry Field. This ‘Social Art’ is now led by Sarah Hodge (Plymouth Uni Fine Arts graduate), who started at LandWorks as a volunteer. Click here to read Sarah’s blog about her involvement.
Christmas felt like it had come several times over in December 2014, when we were awarded a grant from the Big Lottery Fund securing 60% of our funding for the next three years. We still need to find the other 40%, which is why your continued support is so vital.
Of course, we’ve had some downs along with the ups – not least the MOJ’s decision to temporarily halt all prison day release in March 2015, which instantly removed four trainees from the project. It was announced the very day of our first big fund-raising charity auction. Your response? To raise a defiant, and truly staggering, £14,500.
At LandWorks, work-based training goes hand-in-hand with developing life and social skills, and building self-worth. Thanks to your support our trainees have just begun fortnightly counselling sessions with Relate which encourage them to look at their relationships, and examine their own lives. In the two-week gap between visits, new thoughts are starting to emerge into conversations around the lunch table.
Ultimately, the proof of our success is in our giving new hope for ex-prisoners in the form of meaningful training and transferable skills. Since we began, three of our trainees have gone on to find full employment and this year we hope to help 14 more trainees make the transition to a fulfilling, crime-free life. Around £37,000 a year of taxpayers’ money is saved for every LandWorks trainee who does not re-offend and return to prison. But much more than the money, it’s the sense of lives truly turned around that drives us on.
It has been an amazing two years, and we couldn’t have done it without you. There’s so much still to do – including how we crack the critical lack of trainee accommodation. But for now, it’s enough to reflect on all that we have achieved so far. Be sure to come along to our Supporters BBQ on Friday 18 September, so you can see for yourself – and so that we can thank you in person.