No bars to enjoyment with prison-based course

Above founder Karyn Buck with director Mike Jennings. Below Karyn Buck, Mike Jennings, Vikki Stubbs

Above founder Karyn Buck with director Mike Jennings. Below Karyn Buck, Mike Jennings, Vikki Stubbs

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A prison has been inundated with people wanting to enrol on a new vegetable-growing and horticultural course where pupils study alongside inmates.

The unique lottery-funded scheme is based at Springhill Open Prison, near Grendon Underwood, which was given a £275,000 grant to turn a derelict six-acre site into an outdoor education centre.

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Inmates and members of the public can study Aylesbury College-backed short courses in chicken keeping, bee keeping, composting methods, apple tree pruning and growing vegetables.

Project founder Karyn Buck (pictured) said: “People may have preconceived ideas about what to expect, but when they meet the inmates they are just normal guys.

“This is an open prison and these people are near the end of their sentences and will be released soon.

“The prison service would not let it happen if it was not safe. Security systems are in place, the prisoners and project is risk assessed and these people are eligible to go out into the community and work anyway.

“To see a large area of overgrown farm and garden land and near derelict buildings transformed into a thriving education and training centre has been a brilliant experience.”

The scheme started three-and-a-half years ago when Karen, who had already set up a peer mentoring scheme at the prison, went for a winter’s day walk with prison governor Brian Hirons – and they discussed what could be done with the derelict land.

The project, which aims to be self funding by July next year, also features a farm shop which sells the prison’s produce from a hut in the car park.

The shop already sells to restaurants and grocers across the area, who in some cases have offered work experience to the hardest working inmates. The education facility opened a year and-a-half ago, but the first courses open to those not serving time at the prison will get under way later this month.

Karen says most people who have enrolled so far are ‘encouraged by the fact that these guys are getting qualifications and a career and a future’.

She said: “If people want to find out more we encourage them to visit the project pre-enrolment. Everybody is welcome to come and have a look around.”

Peter Bennett, who oversees Grendon and Springhill prisons, said: “Thanks to my very innovative management team, the support of the Big Lottery Fund’s Local Food Programme, the inspiration of the Spring Hill Farms And Gardens Ltd Board and a lot of hard work by our general manager and the men, it’s been done.”

For more details visit www.springhillfg.co.uk