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Prisoners building eco-homes to help tackle South West housing crisis

The first 'pod' home, funded by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, is already in situ at Torbay in Devon.

Prisoners are helping to tackle the housing crisis in the South West by building environmentally-friendly 'eco-pod' homes to the South-West region, in a pioneering new project led by the South West Reoffending Partnership (SWRRP), supported by all five regional Police and Crime Commissioners.

Under the leadership of professional tradespeople at MMC Homebuilding Ltd , prisoners have been learning a range of modern construction skills while also gaining valuable work experience, supporting their rehabilitation in readiness for their release.  

One prisoner explained the job really caught his attention “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.”

Another prisoner involved in the scheme said “To be able to come somewhere like here where they give you an opportunity and a chance, it really allows people to flourish.

“I’ve learned a lot so far and I’ll hopefully learn more as the project progresses.

“Regardless of their background, I think everyone (in prison) could benefit from this. It gets you used to being at work and being committed to something. For a lot of people, crime happens when they don’t have any money, so if they’ve got the chance to work and realise they can work, it can only be of benefit.”

The eco pod homes offer more than much needed, quality, affordable accommodation for those that need it in the community. They are also easy to relocate, built using low carbon methods and offer high energy efficiency to reduce energy bills for the occupants.

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.”

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.”

Using funding secured from the One Public Estate Programme a development framework will be implemented across the South-West. This framework will help to roll out the scheme and enable other public sector organisations to easily access modular housing providers, develop a pipeline of public-sector sites for housing and identify further prison support methods across the South West to assemble and construct the homes.

Using this approach the SWRRP partnership has already identified further public land for up to 70 more homes, and The Diocese of Gloucester has already named its intention to purchase six pods once suitable land in a community has been identified. The pods will be used to house vulnerable people in Gloucestershire. The Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Anglican Bishop to HM Prisons, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, said: “This project is a wonderful and creative way of giving some of the most vulnerable people in society a chance at a fresh start. Living pods have the potential not only to provide homes for those leaving prison but for anyone requiring affordable and accessible accommodation. 

The South West Reducing Reoffending Partnership (SWRRP) was established in March 2019 and brings together partners from across the South West to support multi-agency work to tackle some of the main causes of reoffending, such as lack of accommodation, access to health services and employment opportunities.

The five South West Police and Crime Commissioners are Alison Hernandez (Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly), David Sidwick (Dorset), Mark Shelford (Avon and Somerset), Chris Nelson (Gloucestershire) and Philip Wilkinson (Wiltshire).

The One Public Estate programme is a partnership between the Office of Government Property in the Cabinet Office, the Local Government Association and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. It provides practical and technical support and funding for public sector partners to deliver ambitious property-led programmes in collaboration.