Insights Group’s Carmel George reflects on a well spent summer’s day in wellies after joining HMPPS (Rehabilitation and Care Services) Sustainability Lead and volunteers, restoring a wildlife pond at HMP Send.
In 2021 I spent all my free time reclaiming my garden - its wildlife glimmering with shy slow worms, newts, frogs, and hedgehogs; and a patch of native lesser celandine. Having been inspired by similar Insights 22 sustainability events, I jumped at the chance to help celebrate wildlife sustainability and bio-diversity in HMPPS by spending the day with volunteers at HMP Send.
It didn’t disappoint. It was a sunny day and I loved working on the land with energetic and enthusiastic colleagues. We were an interesting group from all sorts of workplaces - MoJ, Defra, the Judicial Office – as well as HMP Send staff and prisoners. Angela from ARG UK kept watch and cared for any amphibians and reptiles (frogs, to me) that we disturbed during our work.
When I arrived at HMP Send, I met a prisoner working on grounds maintenance who welcomed the pond plan, saying that, "it’s a lovely spot, but it’s all drained and overgrown now".
We met Bea from HMPPS Sustainability in the car park. Navigating reception with our work gear was a smooth process, as we were all on a list, and we were escorted through zoning to the pond.
There were too many of us for pond duty, so some were deployed to clear annuals or weeding. Everyone who walked past was pleased to see us working and encouraged or advised us. Farms and gardens staff helped by taking our rubbish away.
So, what were my takeaways from the day?:
1. I’ve visited HMP Send a few times in previous jobs. I’ve always considered it to be a small prison, because of the number of cells, but it is rich in land, planting, gardening space and opportunities to improve sustainability and restore biodiversity. There is evidence that greenspace outside prison walls has a positive effect on prisoner wellbeing, and I hope it makes a more pleasant working environment for our staff too, who have a very challenging job. HMP Send is just one of many prisons making the most of their green space.
2. You can’t be formal in rough outdoor weather appropriate clothes and sturdy shoes, boots or wellies, and everyone we met was kind and welcoming. We were working, so we were part of HMP Send’s regime that day. It was a great familiarisation visit.
3. At home, my neighbour’s bamboo has invaded my garden, and at HMP Send, the roots of a small clump in a shady corner had spread to attack the border coping and the tarmac path beyond. Bamboo grows like mad; don’t plant it unless you have the time and energy to supervise it!
4. Everyone helped – as the day wore on, the work party grew. Staff and prisoners joined us after activities to get the job done.
5. I loved my sustainability day with HMPPS and fellow volunteers, and I'm grateful to the Insights programme to have had the opportunity. I received a warm welcome, challenged myself, had fun and took away some ideas to use at home. And all the while I was part of HMP Send prison for a day, not just a spectator.
For more information about Embedding sustainability on the MOJ estate, see: Ministry of Justice and the environment - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
Carmel George works in Insights Group supporting the Correctional Service Advice and Accreditation Panel (CSAAP), a wide pool of academics and expert practitioners who give HMPPS evidence-based advice on a wide range of topics relevant to prisons and probation in England and Wales.