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“I don’t think it’s rocket science - they need jobs to come out to. They need schemes like this” - government minister Nick Hurd hails shopping centre’s prisoner project during Norwich tour

PUBLISHED: 20:08 25 July 2012 | UPDATED: 20:23 25 July 2012

Nick Hurd, minister for civil society, meets serving and former prisoners taking part in Chapelfield Shopping Centre's custody and community project

Nick Hurd, minister for civil society, meets serving and former prisoners taking part in Chapelfield Shopping Centre's custody and community project

Matt Keal

A shopping centre’s project giving serving prisoners work experience and training has today won ministerial praise.

Chapelfield Shopping Centre’s custody and community programme aims to bring offenders back into the community and secure them permanent jobs before their sentences have finished.

It is also hoped this idea, in partnership with HMP Norwich, will reduce crime by cutting reoffending rates. Out of the 122 prisoners who have taken part in the project, Chapelfield officials say more than 90 have secured jobs while only 3.2pc - around four people - have reoffended since their release. The national reoffending rate within 12 months of release is 27pc, according to government figures.

Nick Hurd, cabinet office minister for civil society, visited the project during a tour of Norwich today, which included separate trips to see young volunteers at YMCA Norfolk and Norwich Dragons Hockey Club.

Mr Hurd presented Chapelfield with the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award for its endeavours and hailed the programme as a “stepping stone to employment” for prisoners.

He said it was important to break down the stigma surrounding inmates, which made it harder for them to be offered opportunities to prevent them from reoffending.

He said: “It was brilliant - it works. What struck me is I met prisoners at each stage of the journey, from one who arrived on Monday as a volunteer to someone being employed full-time to supervise teams at front of house.

“I’ve seen the journey and the value of giving a prisoner a chance to work, to do a normal working day, to feel normal, to feel valued and develop skills.

“It’s one of the great scandals that two-thirds of prisoners come out and reoffend within two years. I don’t think it’s rocket science - they need jobs to come out to. They need schemes like this.”

Praise was also reserved for Davina Tanner, general manager of Chapelfield Shopping Centre.

Mr Hurd said: “We are looking to see what makes it work well - the leadership and vision of Davina. She is running a shopping centre - she didn’t have to get involved in this at all.”

Mr Hurd also took in YMCA Norfolk, in Queens Road, to look at the National Citizen Service in Norfolk. Around 120 young people aged between 16 and 18 have signed-up to take part in the programme, which aims to develop their skills.

A group of 15, among the first 59 to sign-up, are tidying up and creating a social area at the YMCA building as part of a four-week programme, which included planning their project.

Youth worker Lee Daniels, 22, of Heartsease, Norwich, said: “We’ve had a lot of young people from troubled backgrounds and they have forgotten about that and got on with the project and got involved. Their confidence levels have gone up.”

Arrianne White, 16, of Martham, said she had conquered her fears of swimming and heights during the project.

Ricky Berrisford, 16, of Gorleston, added: “I’ve found it really enjoyable and I’ve got to meet loads of new people. It’s not only that but something to do - I would normally stay indoors over the summer.”

Mr Hurd later visited the Norwich Dragons Hockey Club to mark their involvement in the Join in Local Sport project. This is encouraging people to turn up and help their community sports facilities over the weekend of August 18 and 19.

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