Documents: Special Interest: Gardening In England:

Young Offenders Triumph in Prison Garden Competition
by Ed Horne
September 4, 2011

Green-fingered prisoners from Young Offender Institution (YOI) Thorn Cross, in Cheshire, are celebrating having been selected by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) as winners of the Windlesham Trophy 2011, for best kept prison garden in England and Wales. It is only the second male young offender institution to win the award.

RHS President, Elizabeth Banks, presented the Windlesham Trophy, a redundant ‘Green Goddess’ Fire Engine bell, at an Award Ceremony held at the prison last Wednesday (24 August). Participating prisoners were also given a certificate acknowledging their assistance.

Thirty young male prisoners look after the gardens at YOI Thorn Cross. This includes a large conservation area which is a haven for butterflies and numerous insects and birds, a main pond that is shared by newts and ducks and an animal shelter. They also manage bedding displays and a range of poly tunnels where a variety of fruit and vegetables are grown for internal use within the main kitchens, thus reducing the cost of buying food and products.

John Platt, Head of Learning and Skills for Thorn Cross, says: “Winning Windlesham is a real achievement both for staff and prisoners, the gardens are a delight to walk around and have improved the life of the whole prison. The importance of wellbeingness is enhanced by the many different gardens throughout, adding to a safer and more positive environment for all in the prison.

“The work done over the past year by the gardens team has benefited everyone in the prison, from creating a more positive environment, better sports fields, to the homegrown produce that is used within the prison and staff kitchens, adding to healthier and more cost-effective diet.”

RHS Judge, Michael Hickson, says: “The prison garden at Thorn Cross really stood out for us this year for a number of reasons. The first impression was the bedding displays which were utterly stunning. The ‘young adults’ also manage the trees and shrubs very skilfully; pruning, thinning and shaping under guidance and there is a splendid wildflower meadow and pond, home for amphibians, butterflies, insects and mammals.

“They’re a great bunch of lads who regularly help local charities and schools. For example, the prison is often given old garden tools, sometimes handle-less, and as part of their training the ‘young adults’ clean them, put new handles on and make them look like new. They then donate them to local charities and schools so if you ever see a garden tool with a label saying ‘Renovated by Thorn Cross’ you will know where it has come from!”

At the ceremony, Elizabeth Banks also met up with Yvette Blake, Head Mistress of The Cobbs Infant and Nursery School, which works in partnership with Thorn Cross. Horticulture forms an important part of the resettlement agenda at Thorn Cross, giving prisoners the opportunity to obtain industry-recognised qualifications (National Proficiency Tests Council) not only in gardening skills but also in the use and care of horticultural machinery.

The Windlesham Trophy

In 1983 Lord Windlesham (Chairman of the Parole Board) approached the RHS with a proposal for a prize to be awarded for the best prison garden. The RHS agreed to administer the competition and it was judged by an RHS shows official. This is known as the Windlesham Trophy. Lord Windlesham’s vision was that the competition would help develop and enhance the amenity areas for both staff and prisoners’ in what has the potential to be stark and depressing conditions. He also recognised the value to prisoners devoting part of their time and energies to gardening.

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