This year, the award for Wildlife in Prisons was offered by both the Anglican
Society for the Welfare of Animals and Catholic Concern for Animals. This joint
approach enabled several awards to be made covering different categories of
prisons as well as having an overall winner. This year’s overall winner was
Kirkham Open Prison – where there is so much that is good about this project it
is difficult to know where to start.
The Awards Ceremony was held in the chapel and the awards were presented by
Bishop James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool. Other speakers included the
Governor of Kirkham, John Hewitson; Monsignor Malachy Keegan, Senior RC
Chaplain; and staff and prisoners working on the project.
While Kirkham was the overall winner of the Prisons Wildlife Award, other
prisons were honoured for their contributions. They were, Woodhill (high
security) prison, Highly Commended for a gardening and wildlife project with
young offenders; Maidstone (closed) prison, Commended for their organic
allotments within the prison grounds; and finally, North Sea Camp (an open
prison) which was also Commended on their project with livestock, sites of
Special Interest and a nature reserve with wading birds and other species.
It is obvious from entering Kirkham prison that this is a place where
rehabilitation is at the heart of the establishment. Many of the prisoners are
fully involved in the work of the conservation area and the enthusiasm of both
the staff and the prisoners is infectious.
These men may well return to a different and urban environment and the cynic
might ask, what is the value and gain for the men working on this project after
they are discharged? Well, the men will tell you, as they explained, that it
gives them time out from their previous lives to think about others, to think
about animals, and to think about the world around them. Not so easy to do on a
city housing estate.
The project demands a proper attitude to work, a routine, a time to get some
qualifications and to live a life which, in many ways, challenges their
offending behaviour. The men are learning to put their time to good use and in
turn become more employable on discharge.
Kirkham open prison was a former RAF camp of about 120 acres of which 25 acres
is designated as a Conservation Area where wildlife thrive in well-managed
woodland, paths, and ponds. The Project works with the RSPB and a recent survey
identified 30 bird species of which nine species are on the RSPB endangered
list. In addition there is an abundance of butterflies, insects and small
animals including three families of foxes. There is also a small herd of Rare
Breed Longhorn Suckler Cattle.
There are also rows and rows of polythene tunnels where the most amazing
varieties of vegetables, such as peppers, tomatoes, aubergine, and many more,
are grown – all providing work and food for the prisoners, with the remaining
produce being sold to wholesalers.
Kirkham has links with Myerscough Agricultural College where prisoners can
attend training courses on animal husbandry, mowing and industrial trimming.
Their cattle have won 17 first and other prizes in local agricultural shows and
at the recent Royal Show the prisoners were praised for their high standards and
professionalism in the display ring.
Altogether, this day at Kirkham Prison was a very rewarding experience and it is
fitting that there is a prison shop at the main gate where the public can buy
fresh produce direct from the farm. This prison has embraced an approach to both
rehabilitation and wildlife to an impressive mutual benefit.
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