News: The Oswin Project: HMP Northumberland's ground to fork scheme

A ground to fork scheme designed to cut reoffending is equipping prisoners in Northumberland with new skills and has already helped to 'save lives'.

The Oswin Project, run out of HMP Northumberland, allows those serving time to gain hands-on experience, training, and qualifications in a bid to open up the door to more opportunities once they are free.

ITV Tyne Tees was given exclusive access to the prison to see the programme at each stage - from the prison gardens, to the cafe where goods are baked and finally to where it is sold in the onsite farm shop.

David Huntley works in the prison gardens, and teaches people all year round about growing different plants and vegetables. He said: “I’ve had a number of guys who’ve come to me and quite literally said ‘Dave you’ve saved my life, or this place has saved my life.' It's predominantly why I'm here."

"To see somebody make progression and to go out of here with a job and to restart their life and be a member of society. It gives me a bit of a buzz to be honest."

Figures from the Prison Reform Trust show that, nationally, two in five adults are re-convicted of another offence within a year of release.

HM Prisons and Probation note the North East historically has one of highest rates of reoffending nationally. It is also estimated that the annual total economic and social cost of reoffending is believed to be about £18.1bn. The Oswin Project aims to cut those numbers and break the cycle. So far has helped about 200 people.

One of those people is Paul, who has worked for a number of the organisation's schemes including at their publicly accessible farm shop which opened last year.Paul previously served a sentence elsewhere for drug and dangerous driving. Now, having done his time, he credits the project - and its staff - for helping to turn his life around. He said: “It's made me grow as a person, it’s made me grow in confidence, it has done ever since the café, I’ve been trained up on the till and stuff."

"All the projects have really helped me. It’s the added support as well that I get if I need it.”

The three parts of the scheme currently run out of HMP Northumberland incorporate the prison gardens, Cafe 16 and the Growing Out farm shop.

Those involved onsite grow produce and plants all year round. Anything that can then be used in the kitchen is taken to Cafe 16 where ten prisoners at a time are trained in catering skills, baking the goods into treats and meals. Everything is then taken to the newly opened farm shop at HMP Northumberland, which is accessible to the public.

Fiona Sample is the CEO and brain behind the The Oswin Project and runs it alongside ex-offenders. She said: "I’m proudest of the fact my team, my management team, a third of them are prison leavers... If anyone’s thinking about hiring prison leavers I can say ‘We do’ and they are the strength of our organisation."

"So I’m just an immensely lucky person to be part of this thing and see what we preach about, the bridge of opportunity between prison and the outside world growing.”

When it comes to the produce that is grown and baked, nothing is wasted. All leftovers are taken from HMP Northumberland and donated to a food bank in Amble. This can include items such as pak choi, cabbage, broccoli, peppers, pies, scones and bread rolls.Trustee and Secretary of Amble Food Bank, Lynne Morelli, said: "This food makes such a difference to the clients that we support."

"Ordinarily we hand out ambient goods, so it's things like tins and packets but this means that we're able to give our clients some fresh food, and with the cost of living crisis it makes it harder for them to buy such items."

"When we turn up with items like fresh cakes, pastries and vegetables they're absolutely delighted and the feedback has been great."

Source: ITV Tyne Tees

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