Inmates from Winchester Prison have helped the Royal Hampshire County Hospital turn a patch of unused ground into a beautiful garden.
This transformation is the latest success in the partnership between the prison and the hospital. The Romsey Road organisations have enjoyed a period of mutual support since the heavy snowfall of January 2010.
Two prisoners – who were nearing the end of their sentences and had unblemished records as inmates – worked tirelessly to clear the snow from footpaths around the hospital. Their efforts helped to keep the site safe and gave the prisoners a welcome opportunity to carry out a worthwhile and rewarding task.
The fact that the job was carried out with such willingness encouraged hospital managers to ask the prison for further assistance with other projects. Michael Leggatt, Winchester and Eastleigh Healthcare NHS Trust's General Manager for Facilities and Estates Services, said: "The prisoners worked exceptionally hard in unpleasant conditions and got on brilliantly with everyone they came into contact with."
He added: "When we learnt how successful the prison had been in gardening competitions, we thought it would be great if they could lend us a hand. Our estates team prioritise keeping the site tidy and regularly score top marks in inspections. However, there just isn't the time for the niceties such as flower beds and planting borders."
Prison Governor David Ward said: "We have been thrilled to help and there is always a ready list of inmates who want to volunteer at the hospital. When the chaps come back they are positively glowing with pride and the satisfaction of giving something back the community."
He added: "Prisons shouldn't just be about punishment. If we can rehabilitate inmates and turn them away from a life of crime then everyone wins. Having recent work experience under their belts will be a big boost in resettling into a new life 'on the outside'.
Only prisoners who have had excellent behaviour whilst at Winchester and are assessed as low risk to the public are eligible to be selected to volunteer at the hospital.
The work on the garden started last summer when it was just a disused courtyard with some beds that were overgrown. Now it is a pleasant and tranquil space for staff, patients and visitors to spend time away from the bustle of a busy hospital. Designed with low maintenance in mind, the garden's colours, smells and planting schemes have been carefully chosen to provide sensory stimulus. Seasonal plants have been included so that the garden can be enjoyed throughout the year.
As well as help with the gardening, other prisoners have made picnic tables and designed artwork which explains what the garden is all about.
The garden was officially opened on Friday 15 April by Steve Brine, MP.
Steve Brine said: "Issues surrounding sentencing and rehabilitation have long been with us, and I suspect will continue to run. From my perspective, successive governments have failed to tackle this satisfactorily, and this is very much an area I have a great interest in.
"I am delighted, however, to have heard so much about the garden and what it has done for both the community and the prisoners involved, and my congratulations go to everybody who was able to make this happen."
Pictured; Steve Brine MP plants the last tree in Elizabeth's Garden watched by gardeners from WEHCT, prison officials and former inmates.
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