By Denise Julien
The government’s Big Society initiative is not so much about getting people to do unpaid work. It has enabled communities who want to bring about change, the freedom to do so without the red-tape and bureaucracy of public sector workers who oppose any change that would threaten their easy life.
I originally asked the Payback team to do work at Holcroft Court two years ago. Two mini-bus loads of nine offenders would arrive with two supervisors, slowly get out the equipment, talk about what to do, have a cigarette break, then it was a coffee break, go through the motions of working, go to lunch, then at 2.30 pm, it would be time to clear up and return home.
Because I complained about this, those in charge closed down the project because they will not put their supervisors in a position where they have to explain why no work is getting done. I renegotiated for them to come back, but the same happened, twice.
Now the Payback scheme has changed for the better, as volunteers like myself are able to organise the work. Gone are the lazy supervisors who believed that the taxpayer owed them an easy living, and who made the public believe that all offenders are troublesome and dangerous just to justify their position.
On the contrary, all the offenders that have been sent my way were absolutely fine. The Community Payback scheme allows them to pay their debt to society without having their whole life ruined by a prison sentence. To date I’ve not been sent any women, which begs the question, are women really better behaved, or just better at not getting caught?
Holcroft Court was not due to be repainted for a few years, so the work has not replaced jobs from the paid sector. And, the standard of the work done is very good. I am also in the process of decorating the courtyard and the garden furniture, which has never been cared for. All benches and tables have been sanded down and re-varnished, giving them a near new appearance.
As a volunteer I am able to give offenders a reference to enable them to get a job, which the probation department is unable to do. Furthermore, the high visibility of the orange vests that they are obliged to wear send out a strong signal to potential trouble makers that crime and antisocial behaviour will not be tolerated here, and is a deterrent for those who would be tempted.
There are also many benefits for the volunteer. You get the work done for free at your own specifications. Joining in with the work is very good exercise, and you get to know all your neighbours, many of whom will want to assist you.
And, as Aristotle said, “cultivating the good life requires participation in public life, and exercising responsibility”.