A second chance

Llanelli workshop gives offenders new opportunities.

A former offender, who turned his life around with the help of probation services, is now giving other offenders a “second chance” by teaching them skills for future employment as part of an innovative charity recycling project.

Dai Rees’ experience of the probation service was 12 years ago, when he was put on a drug rehabilitation requirement. Now he works as part of Wales Community Rehabilitation Company’s new pilot project Ail Gyfle, which is Welsh for Second Chance.

A partnership between Wales CRC’s Dyfed Powys Local Delivery Unit and the Antioch Centre, based on Copperworks Road, Llanelli, Ail Gyfle gives offenders an opportunity to learn new skills for employment at a workshop on the outskirts of Llanelli. They are given training in carpentry and woodworking by recycling old wooden pallets, furniture and unused cable reels into a variety of innovative home and garden products such as garden chairs, tables, benches, planters and wishing wells.

Dai is employed by the Antioch Centre to run the workshop for offenders, who are sentenced by the courts to carry out unpaid work through Community Payback.

Dai explained: “When I was on probation, it did me a lot of good. They gave me help to sort out my problems and made me into a better person.

“Because I have been through probation, I can relate to the service users. I understand that some of the people who come here have had drug problems in the past. I’ve gone down that road and cleaned up my act and I can communicate with them.  When you work closely with someone their problems come out and if I can help in any way or direct them to other people who can I will. I find it’s really rewarding.”

In Dai’s workshop male offenders are put on group and individual placements where they learn health and safety, manual handling and basic carpentry skills. The project also has a craft room, where every Wednesday a group of women on Community Orders upcycle furniture and other household items to create a range of “shabby chic” gifts and items for the home. The women are learning skills in hospitality and recycling.

The OCN qualifications the offenders earn are endorsed by YMCA College Wales and recognised by employers.
Nigel Hickey, Community Payback Officer, said: “We hope that by gaining these qualifications offenders are gaining skills for future employment.”

"We are giving the wood and the people a second chance," he said.

Since the social enterprise pilot project started in September 2014 more than 300 pallets and old wooden cable reels, sourced from local businesses, and unwanted furniture have been recycled. The items are sold by the Antioch Centre to sustain the workshop and support its work helping families in times of need and financial pressure through its food, furniture and clothes banks, lunch clubs and play schemes.

In addition to Community Payback, other groups of offenders and volunteers are benefiting from building their skills at the project. For example, those subject to the local Integrated Offender Management scheme, which works with persistent offenders have started attending, thanks to the support of Carmarthenshire Community Safety Partnership.

Deborah Chapman, finance and community development manager at the Antioch Centre, said: “The benefits of working with Wales CRC are numerous. It’s a real fit in terms of our partnership working and our ethos in working with people on the margins of society and seeing them take steps to make different choices, improve their life learn new skills and eventually lead to employment.”

How did it all start?
Llanelli Probation Services Officer Sian Waters is the driving force behind the Ail Gyfle project.

She first came up with the idea last year after seeing the amount of wood that was thrown out in the area. Initially she approached the Antioch Centre and a partnership was formed. She contacted the Community Payback teams, and they set to work collecting old wooden pallets and equipment to make work benches and equip the workshop and craft rooms.

Sian now runs the craft room, where women learn to paint and decorate furniture which is made in the workshop. She is always coming up with new ideas for craft skills to teach the women, whether painting coat hangers, recycling old drink cans into gift tags or making candles.

“Shabby chic is very popular, so the women learn skills to give them more confidence and make them think outside the box. It’s about team building and raising their self-esteem.

“A lot of the women find the crafts therapeutic and will take the techniques they have learnt home with them and use them when they feel stressed. Most of the women are on benefits, some have even taken their new skills home to make things for their families.”

In June Sian was recognised for her innovation in the finals of the National Probation Awards 2015, which recognises excellence within the UK’s probation services.

She said, “I have great pride when I see our service users changing their lives for the better.”