A birthday party gathering this week celebrated the first year of a scheme in which young offenders pay back society by working on projects which benefit the environment – and themselves.
The Skill Mill was set up by the Newcastle Youth Offending Team and the Environment Agency.
The two partners had put together a reparation system for offenders who serve their court orders by working on flood and other water management tasks, and horticultural projects.
This includes clearing waterways of rubbish and pond work as part of sustainable drainage schemes.
Davie Parks, team manager of Newcastle YOT, and Peter Kerr from the Environment Agency had drawn up the reparation scheme for offenders.
“The environmental reparation was really successful. The participants enjoyed the physical work and being outdoors and many had not had that sort of contact with nature before,” said Mr Parks.
“We discussed how we could make it better and convert it into something more significant, leading to training and work,”
The Skill Mill idea involves offering participants who successfully complete their “paybacks” another six months of work on similar tasks, with pay, and leading to a qualification from East Durham college.
There is then the possibility of a job with the partners in the Skill Mill venture – Northumbria University, Environment Agency, Newcastle City Council, Northumbrian Water, The Esh Group, Tyne Rivers Trust, Northumberland Wildlife Trust and East Durham College.
“Everybody wins – the participants who connect to the natural environment, the community because jobs which need doing get done, and it reduces re-offending,” said Mr Parks.
This week’s first anniversary party at Newcastle Discovery Museum was for staff, participants and their families and scheme partners.
Other youth offending bodies elsewhere in the country are now interested in copying the social enterprise project – especially since it won two national awards.
Skill Mill picked up the Children and Young People Now Award for Youth Justice and the John Hawkins Award at the annual Youth Justice Convention.
Dr Peter Glaves, Enterprise Fellow and academic lead for the Skill Mill at Northumbria University, said: “To win one national award is impressive, but to win two says a great deal about the innovative approach developed by the Skill Mill.
“The project helps former young offenders reconnect and give back to the community and help improve the flood protections and wider environment of the region.
“I am proud that Northumbria has been able to support this successful social enterprise that has had a real impact on lives in the region.
“The scheme benefits the individuals, reduces flood risk, improves habitats and reduces reoffending and the costs society.”
Mr Park said: “Winning the awards is a testament to the hard work and commitment of everyone involved in the project, and we want to thank all our partners with the vision and courage to make this happen.”
Skill Mill projects have included:
Fairney Burn, Ponteland
Debris removal which helped identify blockages and potential problems. Removal of self-set trees. Stream cleared of blockages and fallen trees removed and then made into habitats.
Exhibition Park, Newcastle
The Skill Mill were approached by the Esh Group to help with planting work in the restoration of the park alongside Lumsden and Carroll.
Vegetation removed from the stream, and trimmed down on the banks to prevent any further blockages of this nature.
Cleared a large amount of rubbish that had been fly-tipped. Worked from the stream cutting back brambles and bushes to make better access.
There is a small stream which runs behind a school which was known to flood regularly. This made the playground and wildlife garden unusable by the children for most of the year.
By building a raised walkway around a small ponded area in the wildlife garden, it can still be used by the children even when the area is flooded. The stream was also cleared to reduce the flood risk.
The bridge connects a housing estate to an area of green public land. It had become a hazard as much of the sides and flooring had fallen away.
The stream below was also blocked making the bridge impassable and causing the surrounding land to flood.
Litter and dead vegetation was cleared and the bridge was rebuilt and painted.
Commission by South Tyneside Council to remove sandbag wall to be replaced with a new wall to provide a temporary flood defence solution to mitigate the effects of water coming from the adjacent field on to the road and into the wider Fellgate estate, as had occurred during June 2012.
Percy Hedley Foundation.
A stream which runs behind a garden which had become blocked with litter and vegetation, causing flooding, was cleared.
A trench was created running parallel to the river to help reduce flood risk in the Ouseburn area. When the water levels in this watercourse rise this trench takes the water as an overflow.
Wydon Reservoir, Hexham
Working with the Environment Agency, trimmed vegetation on the side of the pathways opening them up so visitors can use the paths.
As the edges were trimmed, birds such as robins and blackbirds followed the work to eat worms and insects disrupted by the trimming.
Rising Sun, Wallsend
The country park suffered flooding from a stream blocked by litter and dead vegetation, which was cleared.
A stream clearance took place to remove litter, overgrown vegetation and household/commercial waste causing blockages and build ups which could lead to a higher flood risk
Calf Close Burn, Jarrow
Blockage removal on the watercourse of litter and vegetation which was stopping the flow creating a flood risk. This included two traffic signs.
Primrose Nature Reserve & Monkton Burn, Jarrow.
Japanese Knotweed is found on this site in large quantities which is to be mapped and recorded. Most items pulled out of water were recyclable .
A handbag was found which belonged to an elderly lady and included many personal and valuable belongings. This handbag was handed to police and returned to the owner.