Once upon a time in the South Hams…

21 years ago, I had a young family and a growing landscaping business. We were on the look out for our first employee, ideally a motivated and experienced landscaper.

LandWorks shirtI met Alan.

Not sure ‘transferable employability skills’ existed in the 90s! If they did I don’t think either of us was particularly aware of them.

However it turned out that Alan had successfully transferred something. An addiction from heroin to alcohol. He had carefully explained all this during our rather eye opening ad hoc job interview, which was nice of him!

I liked Alan.

Early morning he would get in the van, wearing a sort of sweet smelling after-shave. He worked hard, sweated profusely, we talked and I learned so much… Not least about his choice of cologne, which was necking a can of ‘special brew’ before I saw him in the morning.

I was very naïve.

I thought his story to be totally unique (I’ve now heard countless versions). I started to understand about the effects of family break up, abuse and his slide into drugs and alcoholism.

We twice supported him through rehab. Helping him to become independent, develop and I guess fly the nest.

Over the years we employed many great builders, carpenters and stonewallers. As well as part-time musicians and artists struggling to make ends meet. But always one or two folk, who for various reasons were taking a difficult route through life.

So somehow Julie and I had managed to build this slightly unusual business model. Surprisingly or perhaps not, banks never really exalted its merits!

It worked for many; outdoors work and mixing with an extraordinary range of people. To do this commercially is tough but measured in human terms, successful.

In 2007 we managed to secure some private sponsorship for men leaving HMP Channings Wood, a contribution to employment costs that allowed us to work with ‘prolific offenders’ at the point of release.

By now I was becoming convinced that men coming straight out of prison, damaged, unskilled and with little support was a social model for disaster.

In 2011, I read on The Dartington Hall Trust website about the trust’s ambition to support work with prisoners and so the LandWorks idea began to germinate…

I’m going to stop it there because an old face has appeared at the cabin window. He must have heard the news…

…to be continued.