Offenders 'paying back' through hospitality

Offenders paying backElderly churchgoers are receiving hearty lunches made by offenders looking to ‘pay back’ for their crimes, as part of an innovative project in Exeter.

Every Monday, up to 40 members of the Mint Methodist Church in Fore Street, Exeter, sit down for a two-course lunch prepared by a group of offenders undergoing Community Payback activity after being sentenced by the courts.

Service users from Dorset, Devon and Cornwall Community Rehabilitation Company (DDC CRC) are required to assist in the planning, preparation, cooking and serving of the menus, working closely with church managers.

All participants are given health and safety training and pick up a wide range of skills they can use in everyday and work life, helping them transition into lives away from crime. It is believed the project has helped around 150 people with convictions since it started.

The service users even cooked Christmas lunch and created gingerbread men for the churchgoers this winter.

Pauline Johns, operations manager at DDC CRC, said: “This partnership dates back to 2010 but has grown and is still going strong today. It provides a great opportunity for those embarking on Community Payback to gain new skills and confidence, coupled with the community benefits of providing a weekly hot meal and social interaction for some of the city’s elderly residents.”

Feedback from all those involved in the project is extremely positive, with people often commenting on the attitude, cheerfulness, helpfulness and quality food of the service users.

Service user Peter, not his real name, said: “I have always enjoyed cooking but have never been shown properly before. I find it very therapeutic and find it an excellent way to relax with my family. I am now using the recipes I used at the Mint to cook for my family and this has inspired me to make cakes and pastries. I didn’t have the confidence to do this before.”

Barbara Pillage, the Mint Methodist Church’s lunch club co-ordinator, said: “We think it’s a win-win situation. We appreciate working with the CRC to provide opportunities for training and social interaction.”

As well as being a busy church, the Mint is also an active community hub, opening daily with new facilities recently providing further opportunities for outreach into the Exeter community.