Wild about nature

Offenders on Community Payback turn Gower retreat into haven for wildlife.Award for Wiltshire quartet

Offenders carrying out unpaid work as part of their community sentences have won a national award for turning the grounds of a retreat centre into a haven for wildlife.

They have created habitats and made owl boxes, a snake pit, homes for hedgehogs and assorted bugs and have built bird tables and feeders. They have also made garden furniture, planted a sensory garden and laid a prayer walk.

The project at Nicholaston House, a Christian retreat centre overlooking Oxwich Bay, has won the top prize in the annual wildlife awards organised by the National Offender Management Service.

It beat probation and prison entries from across Britain to secure both the overall title and the title of best outreach project. It is the third year running that the work at Nicholaston House has won the outreach title but the first time a Welsh project has clinched the top prize.

The offenders worked under the guidance of supervisor Lawrence Uzzell who has also been recognised with a special achievement award.
Swansea-based Simon Morse-Jones is Community Payback officer with Wales Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), responsible for managing the offenders’ unpaid work.

He said: “It’s a great achievement as we were competing against prisons where they have more time to work on projects.

“I am also really pleased that Lawrence’s work has been recognised as he works with very diverse groups of workers, some of whom have little English, and he passes on some very worthwhile skills.”

Many of the items have been made at Wales CRC’s workshop in Port Talbot under the guidance of supervisor Noel Williams who won the special achievement award last year.

It is not only the wildlife which has benefited from the project. Simon said: “The people at Nicholaston have really taken to the service users, they show them respect and don’t judge them for what they’ve done.

“Every service user gets an Open College Network certificate in Health and Safety and some are able to gain skills in painting and carpentry. Getting a certificate can really inspire people who have never had one before.”

Mike Hurst first called on probation for help when he went to Nicholaston House to recuperate after an operation and was puzzled by the lack of birds. He says the work carried out by the offenders means there are now plenty of birds to be seen in the garden, but the benefits are more far reaching.

“It’s amazing to see the difference both to the offenders who absolutely love it here and to us as Christians who interact with them. We see some life changing effects,” he said.

Judge Dr Phil Thomas said: “The judging was a challenge and a joy. As ever all of the entries for this award were of an exceptionally high standard, which just emphasises the commitment and professionalism that staff and offenders dedicate to this area of sustainable biodiversity.”

Nicholaston House, which has its own tiny chapel in the grounds, provides a refuge for people seeking spiritual peace as well as those convalescing from physical and mental illness.

The awards will be presented by Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of NOMS, at a ceremony at Nicholaston House in July.