A GOVERNMENT minister witnessed at first hand today (Thursday, April 10) the benefits of a community work scheme for offenders.

Justice Minister Chris Grayling had a tour of Saltburn Woodland Centre in the town's Valley Gardens and saw the results of the work done by people on the Community Payback Scheme.

The scheme, which is an alternative to prison, provided the workforce that helped the centre to recover from severe flooding last September.

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Ingrid Salomonsen, a volunteer for the Saltburn Friends of the Valley, which now runs the centre, said their work had been invaluable.

“The work they do is great,” she said.

“They come every week and have really helped to transform the centre. While they have been coming, they have cleared the rubbish away, cut the grass and cleaned up the benches.

"Without their help it would be really difficult to keep on top of the maintenance for our team of volunteers.”

Robert Proctor, the chairman of the Saltburn Miniature Railway Association, runs a narrow-gauge railway that connects the centre to Saltburn beach.

The railway, which transports 25,000 visitors a year down to the coast and survives wholly on ticket sales, was almost completely destroyed in the floods, with all of the ballast underneath the track being washed away.

Mr Proctor, 69 and the railway’s engine driver, said: “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the lads on the Community Payback Scheme.”

The workers did most of the heavy work, which would have been prohibitively expensive if it had to be paid for out of the association’s income from tickets.

Mr Proctor said that the visitor attraction was mostly of benefit to parents, grand-parents and children and was glad to see it would be back open on Good Friday and throughout the bank holiday weekend from 1pm to 5pm. Subsequently, it will run on weekends at the same times.

Justice Minister Mr Grayling said: “The whole purpose of community payback is so that members of the community can see what is being done. This is a perfect example of the benefits the scheme can bring to the community.”