November 10, 2023

Insights from Insights23: Unveiling the Heart of Community Payback 

Baylee Hills
Senior Social Researcher
Ministry of Justice

Baylee Hills reflects on “Experience a Morning on Community Payback’ on 4 October hosted by Swindon Community Payback Unit. 

Navigating the daunting five pronged ‘magic roundabout’ on the way into Swindon, I found the yard and Porta-Cabin tucked away on the path to the cricket ground. Before the event, I’d conjured images of people in orange jumpsuits like Stanley Yelnats from the movie 'Holes,' mindlessly digging in a misguided attempt at character-building. However, the reality of community payback was a lot different and had much more to it than I anticipated. 

There were only three visitors, but our collective curiosity resulted in a barrage of questions, enough for at least twenty. Our hosts guided us through the induction for newcomers on their first day of community payback. We delved into the purpose, and expectations (and the consequences of non-compliance), and the type of work done during sentences. 

What I learned that day was eye-opening.  

CP may indeed have some elements of litter-picking and controlled digging. But it's not aimless, more like groundskeeping or horticulture and its ultimate goals stretch beyond mere punishment. It offers opportunities for positive changes in communities, and for participants, access to training and skills development to improve employability. 

The CP supervisors have a really demanding task striking the right balance between ‘visible’ projects but with tangible improvements to local communities while also providing opportunities for people to learn new skills or employability. It’s not easy at all!  

I learned that sometimes those on CP are verbally abused by the public. So, I was glad to hear how the staff look out for the wellbeing of those on community sentences and ensure the work adds to rehabilitation as well as punishment.  

We explored the yard and facilities and I saw the pride they took in their woodwork shed and cultivating fresh produce. Swindon uniquely offer work on site tending the local cricket ground, working in the wood workshop, and upcycling school benches. They also redecorate faith spaces, do grounds maintenance for local cemeteries and schools, grow salad boxes from seed, and make wooden products for the RSPCA. 

The thing that stood out to me most was the passion and enthusiasm of the staff. I felt really inspired by their creativity and dedication. From salvaging old wood pallets and making the most of their resources, to seeking out new exciting projects. Even in challenging circumstances and navigating complex policies, it is evident they are doing all they can to provide meaningful projects, experiences, skills and support. Building positive relationships and coaching the people who cross their path to make better choices in the future.  

It was a great experience and I feel like I learnt so much and came away feeling reinvigorated and inspired by the passionate staff I met. HMPPS Insight festival is a truly great experience and I can’t wait to see what next time brings.  

Hosts Justin Holmes, David Howlett, and Kevin Uzzell said: “We were thrilled to host our Community Payback Insights23 event. Baylee’s words truly resonate with us, capturing the essence of our work, dedication as a team, and shared enthusiasm for opening our doors to showcase the positive work we do. Insights 23 allowed us to shine a light on the achievements of those on probation and the transformational impact of community service”. 

Paul Wainwright, Operations manager for the Swindon area, added: I am proud to be part of such a dedicated, enthusiastic and committed team. The team clearly took the time and effort to really fulfil and deliver a full experience, that really impacted the audience. It is really good to see that not only was there a focus on punishment, but how we really try to support offenders through rehabilitation and teaching skills to change their lives for the better.” 

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