Ex-offenders go green as wellbeing hub takes shape

A group of former offenders has transformed a disused and overgrown area into what will become a tranquil urban garden as part of a project to support community learning in Exeter.

The group of 24 undertook the three-day-long work, completing a total 480 hours as part of the Community Payback initiative, which is designed to rehabilitate them and make them ‘pay back’ society after their convictions.

As part of the collaborative community at the centre of the Wellbeing Hub, Exeter CVS worked with Dorset, Devon and Cornwall Community Rehabilitation Company (DDC CRC) to enable the group to cut back overgrown trees and bushes to create a green open space, ready for people to use.

The garden, at Wat Tyler House in King William Street, will now be used as an ecotherapy space in the heart of the city, supporting adult and community learning projects, social action and social enterprise.

Its transformation is part of a wider project by Exeter CVS to create a Wellbeing Hub housing a range of services for the local community, including GP surgeries, a learning space, volunteering centre as well as providing a one-stop-shop for people to get advice and guidance on housing issues, debt management and health matters. DDC CRC’s probation team will also be located there, enhancing its services to people wanting to turn their back on crime.

Pauline Johns, Community Payback Operations Coordinator at DDC CRC, said: “Community Payback is a form of punishment, sentenced by the courts – this garden transformation has been demanding work for the service users but has also provided them with life and vocational skills that they will hopefully use going forwards as they look to lead law-abiding lives.

“It’s also great that we’ve been involved in the transformation of the Wellbeing Hub – a place where we will be delivering services in the coming months.”

Fiona Carden, Learning Centre Manager at Exeter CVS, said: “The reclamation of this unused land in the city centre will benefit the Wellbeing Hub's service users, and serve as a pilot project for future green redevelopment in the city.

“Ecotherapy, and the emerging treecomonics movement, are proven ways to improve personal and community wellbeing by caring for and enhancing our green spaces. Recent research shows that people who live in tree-lined areas report health benefits equivalent to being seven years younger as well as revealing benefits from everything to improved mental health and reduced asthma.”