Prisoners to make ‘people-powered homes’

Too many people leaving prison have no money, no skills and no home to go to. They end up homeless or re-offending, or both, and back in prison. This has shocking impacts on people’s lives and on the wider community. It is known as the revolving door of reoffending; a vicious circle that also costs the Criminal Justice System over £18 billion a year. There are no winners.

Agile Homes is a people-centred business with a social impact purpose. It wants to do what it can by working collaboratively to break the cycle of re-offending, by adding purpose and value to people’s lives and to deliver low carbon, affordable homes that communities need so badly.

Agile Homes and HM Prison & Probation Service are delighted to announce that, following signing of a contract earlier this year, the first low carbon, affordable modular home is to be made by prisoners at HMP Leyhill, Gloucestershire, in early November.

That home will be assembled on a micro-site in Torquay, with the help of a prisoner, released on temporary licence (ROTL) from HMP Channings Wood. It will be occupied by young mothers who would otherwise be in unsuitable accommodation and are in need of support to develop life skills for independent living.

The new home is being sponsored by Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner, Alison Hernandez, and will be built on land owned by, and the home managed by, Torbay Council.

Following a successful trial of this model, HM Prison & Probation Service and Agile Homes will look to ramp up the production of new homes from HMP Leyhill and expand to other prisons.

Additionally, a programme of work led by the South West Reducing Reoffending Partnership (SWRRP) and West of England Combined Authority will also seek to deliver homes, initially on small sites, in this way. This will ensure more offenders can secure vital skills and financial support to help them gain employment and rented accommodation on release.

Agile Homes’ innovative and proven pre-fabricated panel system, made from carbon banking renewable materials timber and straw, provides a solid, warm, well-designed and welcoming home environment.

Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said: “Our community wants to see us helping people turn their lives around because when people become trapped in a cycle of reoffending, we all suffer. The costs to society and our communities is immense. Not only does this project seek to address reoffending, it provides inmates with new skills and enough money for a fresh start. The aim is to replicate this across the country and play a part in addressing a nationwide affordable housing crisis.

We are very proud to have been able to all work together to make this project possible during the coronavirus [disease] pandemic.”

“Torbay Council are delighted to be part of such an innovative partnership project,” said Cllr Steve Darling, the Leader of Torbay Council. “This pilot project has the ability to positively influence so many lives.”

Craig White, CEO of Agile Homes, said: “This circular economy model, with people’s housing needs at its centre, underpins Agile’s approach to changing the housing market.

Our model provides an immediate, simple and cost effective solution to help fix the housing crisis. By including education and skills development as well as housing opportunities for prison leavers, we can help reduce reoffending and homelessness. Our partnership with the staff and prisoners at HMP Leyhill will demonstrate the potential to scale up delivery across the UK, using the distributed manufacturing network of prison workshops.”

Lance Harris, National Sector Development Manager for HMP Prison & Probation Service, said: “We’re delighted to have a contract with Agile to manufacture low carbon, affordable, modular homes and other products. It will enable offenders to gain valuable work experience, skills, qualifications and the opportunity for employment, both in custody and following their release. The homes will benefit people in communities who would otherwise struggle to get on the housing ladder. The fair wage earned by prisoners will support them in finding suitable accommodation on release. We think this is a great model for manufacturing of homes and look forward to scaling up delivery with Agile.”

Steve Hodson, Governor, HMP Leyhill, said: “HM Prison Leyhill is delighted to have the opportunity to play a major part in this exciting project. To be able to provide real-life work skills and qualifications to our residents as well as providing housing opportunities for those on release from prison and within the wider community is invaluable. This project will play a significant role in breaking the cycle of reoffending and supports our vision of improving employment prospects for those on release, helping them to stay out of prison, get their lives back on track and prevent becoming future victims of crime.”

The purpose of the contract between Agile Homes and HM Prison & Probation Service is to address a number of interconnected challenges:

  • to deliver low carbon, affordable, modular homes at pace for communities and people in need;
  • to meet climate emergency targets;
  • to respond to the socio-economic challenges of COVID-19;
  • to establish a model for scaling up delivery of low carbon, affordable, modular homes though a distributed network of prison workshops across the country;
  • to provide prisoners with meaningful activity, a fair wage, modern construction skills and a qualification while serving their sentences; part of the wages earned by prisoners will go to victim support;
  • and to help prison leavers find a home and a job, with a role and purpose that adds value to them as people; meaning that ex-offenders can ontribute to society and the economy with dignity and are far less likely to re-offend or to be homeless.

Author: Laura White

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