Minister visits Bethnal Green Community Payback gardeners

Government minister Crispin Blunt met workers clearing overgrown gardens on a Community Payback scheme in Globe Town today.

The prisons and probation minister met a team of seven people who were busy clearing overgrown plants and shrubs from gardens at Massingham Street and Portelet Road as part of their community service.

He had a chance to hear what they thought of the scheme and whether it works.

He also met as meeting staff from Tower Hamlets Homes, Tower Hamlets Council, Globe Town police and the probation service.

He told the team of gardeners how important it was that people turned up for their service and they had a discussion about the problems people experience if they have family issues to deal with which causes them difficulties in turning up.

He said: “I’ve been to countless schemes in the country where people just don’t show up. All I want is for Community Payback to work.”

He added: “If you have a job you have got to manage it. This is an alternative to jail. It’s an option rather than going from the dock into the van (to prison).”

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Tower Hamlets Homes has a scheme for people sentenced by the courts to do work in the community to help clear gardens for vulnerable residents who have been unable to tackle overgrown vegetation for themselves and Mr Blunt met offenders on one of these projects.

Participants range from people who are experienced gardeners to those who have never been involved before.

Some are out of work and others are in full employment.

He told the Advertiser: “With this scheme people will be able to see people serving their punishment in the community.”

He added: “It is also a reparation that is of value to society.”

Taj Uddin, Tower Hamlets Homes neighbourhood engagement officer said: “It breaks down barriers as people will come out to chat and the residents get into growing fruit and vegetables.”

Across Tower Hamlets people aged 18 upwards carry out 10,000 hours of community service a year, keeping them out of prison and doing work for their community as a punishment.

The average sentence is between 80 to 200 hours of unpaid work, with offenders putting in six and a half hours a day.

Across the country 100,000 offenders wearing high visibility jackets so they can be seen to be putting something back carried out more than eight million hours of unpaid work between April 2008 and March 2009.

The government is bringing out a Green Paper on the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ before Christmas and looking at ways to do things more efficiently.

He said: “There is a balancing act and I am exploring ways to do it.”