Styal Women's Prison in pioneering green project

PUBLISHED: 01:16 26 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:11 20 February 2013

A sunflower in front of the prison building

A sunflower in front of the prison building

A Cheshire women's prison is benefitting from pioneering eco-friendly processes in more ways than one WORDS BY RACHAEL HOGG

Styal Prison, the North Wests only female prison, is leading the way with its sustainability and waste management programme. The prison, located in a picturesque setting near Wilmslow, is saving thousands of pounds every year while benefitting the environment. The possibility of training inmates in a horticulture career is also becoming a reality. And if every prison in the UK followed Styals lead, the prison authority reckon savings of around 3M pounds a year could be made.

In 2009 the prison reviewed its food waste policy and found the solution in a waste management system which turns food waste into high quality compost. The system has saved the prison 10,000 so far and will pay for itself in less than five years, they estimate.

In the 32 acres of prison grounds, it is now only their own compost which is used, all 9000 kilograms of it. The cycle, which helps to grow food that the prison inmates eat, has been successful in both saving money and helping the environment.

But this is not the only eco-friendly initiative the prison is involved in. Eddie Tarry, who manages the gardens and recycling department at Styal prison said: We recycle as much of our waste as possible, we have three active beehives and are looking into bringing wild birds to the area. And we have just registered with a local wild animal sanctuary to bring in hedgehogs.

The gardens at Styal have been completely transformed from a few scattered trees and plain lawns into a multitude of themed areas. There is now an area outside the library which allows for outdoor reading (weather permitting, of course), and a staff relaxation garden away from the living units of the prisoners, where officers can be in a quiet environment to soothe and unwind. A reflection garden to the rear of the chapel is almost complete. This area allows prisoners to discuss their issues and problems in a comforting, natural environment. Eddie commented: The humorous large planters with faces on and grass for hair definitely bring a smile to peoples faces. The transformation has been achieved by the hard work of between 35 and 50 inmates a day - who have to apply to be allowed to do this job - and the hard-working staff at the prison.

The large vegetable garden produces a plethora of produce throughout the year which is used by the prisoners in the self-catering units. At the start of the programme, there was no tuition for the women and most of them had no experience in horticulture. Whatever grew, grew, and whatever died, they discovered why and didnt make the same mistake again. The process of trial and error was surprisingly successful, but now, with the help of an agronomist from Manchester Metropolitan University, the women and the garden are thriving, and there is the possibility to turn their skills into a qualification which will help them to gain employment after their release.
Eddie comments: Without a shadow of a doubt the project really benefits prison life. The comments, feedback and atmosphere are all really positive, and make the whole process worthwhile. Eddie added: All the women are encouraged to work, and they gain a sense of purpose. The garden gets them out in the open air and most of them enjoy it. The work also tires them out, so when they return to their rooms, they are quieter and sleep a lot better. From the work on the gardens the entire morale of the prison has lifted, and the improvements have led to Eddie and colleague Carl Bailey winning a Butler Trust Award for excellence in work with female offenders. It was prresented to them by Princess Anne, the Princess Royal.

This scheme is saving money, improving morale at the prison, helping inmates gain new skills and qualifications and helping to nurture the environment. The success at Styal is being used to encourage other prisons around the country to follow suit.

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