A COTTAGE industry designed to integrate prisoners back into the real world has proved so popular that the business is rapidly expanding to keep up with public demand.
A cafe and shop that opened last September at HMP Kirklevington Grange, near Yarm, is more than doubling its size and another welding instructor is being appointed to cope with the four-month waiting list of orders for its bespoke metalwork products, including garden furniture.
A new coffee bar for prisoners and staff is set to open next week behind locked doors where baristas will be trained to perfect the art of the cappuccino for paying customers on the other side of the high perimeter fence.
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Officially opened by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, The Grange social enterprise has surpassed expectations, said Graeme Parry, head of reducing reoffending at the semi-open jail.
More ‘The Good Life’ than ‘Porridge’, the coffee shop sells fresh produce all harvested on site, from flowers, blueberries and free-range eggs to bread and homemade jam. A new product line is eco-friendly fire briquettes which are made on site using recycled waste paper.
“Everybody thought we were crazy, 'what are you going to get out of this?,' they asked," said Mr Parry.
“Our thoughts were it’s about the community and the training. We are absolutely delighted with it."
There are 303 men living next door in the ‘resettlement’ prison, one of only three in the country for those nearing the end of sentences lasting more than three years. None of the men are convicted sex offenders.
All prisoners are risk assessed before they can be signed up to a minimum 30-day unpaid community work placement and only then can they become eligible for home leave, known officially as Resettlement Overnight Release, or paid employment.
The value of the ‘community payback’ if the hours were paid at minimum wage combined with paid work added up to £750,000 in 2012/13 and it beat the 2013/14 £1m target by around £30,000.
Visiting The Grange for the first time were mother and daughter Theresa Eastwood and Trisha Boyd who were enjoying a coffee outside on a wooden 'love seat' made to order at Durham prison, while their car was being cleaned.
"I have never seen anything like this, I think it's wonderful and the staff are lovely," said Mrs Eastwood. "When you come up here you know what it is, it's a prison. People should come and see for themselves, we will definitely be back."