May 7, 2024

Planters and Paving Slabs: A conservation volunteering day at HMP Send 

Chris Holmes and Andrea Hood
Insights Engagement Manager and MoJ Commercial Volunteering Lead

Chris Holmes from HMPPS Evidence & Insights Team and Andrea Hood, Volunteering Lead at MoJ Commercial, reflect on a day well spent at HMP Send.  

We’d heard great things about the fantastic conservation and horticulture work by the staff and women at HMP Send.  

So, this was a great opportunity organised by the Sustainability lead in HMPPS Rehabilitation Directorate as part of Insights23 and MoJ volunteering, to see some of it first-hand. At the same time, we hoped that by volunteering for a day we would make a small but practical contribution to their efforts to reduce reoffending and improve sustainability.  

We know that greenspace outside prison walls has a positive effect on prisoner wellbeing. So the aim was to improve the open space around Send’s recently built and opened Incentivised Substance Free Living Unit and provide opportunities for some of the women to develop new skills growing flowers and vegetables. The staff and women were really positive and proud of their new accommodation and ethos of the unit. The new modular living units surround an open grass area and look and feel very different to a normal wing.    

About a dozen volunteers (mostly recruited by Andrea from MoJ Commercial) were tasked with clearing an area of ground and laying a paving base for a greenhouse and assembling some wooden planters. None of us really knew what we were doing at first, but this didn’t matter. Without any detailed instructions, plan, strategy or “The Apprentice” style attempts to prove anyone’s leadership skills, we self-organised into two loose groups.  

In no time we began to make progress. Some of it was tough going, there was some heavy lifting involved but we shared the tasks and were also helped and encouraged at times by some of the women. We developed new skills and experience ourselves drilling holes and levelling the surface.         

Collecting the tools and equipment from the Works Department gave us a sneak peek at some of the 4.5 acres of gardens, polytunnels and greenhouses where the prison grows fruit and vegetables for the kitchens. There is also now a thriving wildlife area around a pond, recently rebuilt by MoJ volunteers and now maintained by the women.   

We were interested to learn that the impact on the women of working in Send gardens has been featured by photographer, artist and filmmaker Faye Claridge in collaboration with the Royal Horticultural Society. This video shows how some of the women at HMP Send engaged in the project developed new skills and overcame challenges to their mental health and wellbeing.  

This video shows how the horticulture programme at HMP Send helps the women to get horticulture qualifications and employment. 

The end of the day came around quickly. To our surprise and the delight of the staff and women we had assembled 6 planters and completed the base, ready for the next group of volunteers to put the put up the greenhouse.  

We also benefited as volunteers. We enjoyed a refreshing day outdoors, boosting our mental and physical well-being, honing our skills together with fellow volunteers. This experience deepened our social connections and heightened our empathy and compassion for others. At the end of the day, we felt a profound sense of purpose and that we had done something meaningful.  

Volunteering holds transformation power. It’s incredible how much a small, dedicated group can achieve in short time.  

But most of all we’d been inspired by how the women supported by the amazing staff at Send, use gardening to turn their lives around. 

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