A gardening scheme has received an award from the Royal Horticultural Society for improving the lives of their prisoners.
For the second time since 2017, HMP & YOI Parc, which is managed by G4S, was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society Windlesham Trophy for the 'Best Kept Prison Garden'. The competition was started in 1984 by the then chairman of the parole board, Lord Windlesham, to acknowledge the positive impact of gardening on prisoners. Twenty prisons entered this year's competition.
The winning prison garden - HMP Parc - is a private prison for male adults and young offenders, located in Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan, Wales, with around 1336 inmates. The prison has attracted positive attention due to this gardening scheme - which was intended to make the prison more welcoming and to provide prisoners with an employment opportunity. Prisoners who work in the garden can earn £28 a week for 40 hours of work, while also studying for qualifications in horticulture. Men who have worked in the gardens have taken jobs in horticulture after their release.
Recent research by the University of Central Lancashire found prison horticulture programmes had a "marked effect on mental health and wellbeing".
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RHS judges assessed the entries on their garden displays, environmental aspects, and how the gardens impacted on the men in their care. RHS judge Jon Wheatley said:
"What the team has achieved at HMP & YOI Parc is truly outstanding with far-reaching benefits across the whole prison community, from superb training and learning opportunities to food production and improved health and wellbeing."
Every available space within the prison has been used to grow plants, and to create tranquil places to relax and reflect. A former builder's yard has now been made into allotments, growing fruit and vegetables that are used in the staff canteen. A wasteland area has now been transformed into a calming Japanese-style garden, an area of quiet contemplation used by the officers. There are also the wildflower borders, beehives, bug hotels, bird boxes and a pond.
The gardens also benefit those who work in the staff kitchen, who make meals from the fresh crops grown in the allotments. The woodwork and recycling workshops in the prison have worked on building bird boxes and fences for the gardens, as well as composting systems, planters and propagation trays out of recycled pallets and plastic bottles.
G4S director of HMP & YOI Parc, Janet Wallsgrove, said this award "will especially mean a lot to the men in our care who are working towards horticultural qualifications. As well as improving the environment within the prison, our gardens provide prisoners with the training, skills and confidence to pursue employment in this sector upon release."
Mike Thomas, a manager who oversees Parc's horticulture staff, stated:
"Prisons are very austere, there's hardly any greenery, shrubs, gardens, or anything...The garden goes through the centre of the prison, and you see straight away it has a calming effect on people. The men who work in the garden feel differently about themselves; they have been given trust. In the eight years I've been in my job, not one prisoner working in the gardens has been placed on the governor's report for disobeying rules."
Alan Grant, who was transferred to HMP Prison and who has worked in the jail's gardens for almost three years, said:
"It's therapeutic... My time here would have gone slower if it wasn't for the garden. The job does help people, especially if they struggle. Gardening helps with mental health, and I think they should do more of it in jail. It gives a sense of purpose; it takes our minds off things. It keeps me going. I'm happy, and I enjoy it."
Particular thought has been put into making the prison more attractive and welcoming for visitors and less intimidating for families with young children. The walkway from the entrance gate to the visiting area is decorated with hanging flower baskets.
Plants at Parc are as good as can be seen at the Chelsea flower show, noted Jon Wheatley, an RHS council member and Windlesham Trophy judge.
Parc's horticulture instructor, Gareth John, says the environment helps the prisoners "whatever is going on in the wings, whatever is going on in their personal lives...We don't seem to have any trouble in the garden. The guys come out, and they enjoy it. They ask to come out at weekends and work extra shifts. They really enjoy working. It makes the time go quicker."
There is some form of horticulture work going on in 30 prisons around the country.
Some names have been changed.