Scheme sees prisoners building eco-homes to help tackle South West housing crisis

Tuesday 10th May 2022 7:00 am
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A pod built by prisoners to help tackle the South West housing crisis
A still image captured from a Youtube video about the regional project for prisoners to build eco-home pods to help tackle the South West housing crisis. This shows one of the pods sited at Torquay in Devon. (Picture: Office of the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner )

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PRISONERS are helping to tackle the housing crisis in the South West by building environmentally-friendly ‘eco-pod’ homes for people in the region.

The pioneering new project is being led by the South West Reoffending Partnership (SWRRP), supported by all five regional Police and Crime Commissioners, including Cornwall and Devon’s Alison Hernandez, who is SWRRP chairman.

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 helping to support their rehabilitation in readiness for their release.

One prisoner, explaining why the task had really caught his attention, said: “The fact it involved learning new skills, using recycled materials to create an environmentally friendly product and is helping to solve the housing crisis – it ticked all of my boxes.

“I’ve been doing everything from painting and scaffolding, to roofing, flooring and 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.”

He added: “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.

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.

Watch the Youtube video on the project at https://youtu.be/blAqOJPEeM0

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