It was a cold Thursday morning and it had been an early start for me, as I had plenty to do before I headed out to work. So following an early lunch I headed off to Platt Bridge to meet my boss Amy and visit the latest groups/services to take part in my #WiganMYPOnTour. Today I was to be given a whistle stop tour of Wigan’s impressive Restorative Solutions Team (RST). I hadn’t heard much about this service before so I was really looking forward to getting the chance to meet the team and learn about some of their projects. My day started when I was introduced to Shirley who is the Reparations Coordinator. It was obvious from our first introduction that she was very passionate about the service and obviously had a great interest in her work. We sat down and she told me a little about the service.
The team, who deal with young people ages 8 to 18, work to enable those who may be at risk of being, or have already been, excluded, those who have committed antisocial behaviour and those who have committed crimes. The team takes young people, either following a referral from schools or schools’ PCSO, or as part of Reparation Court Orders, to volunteer for projects all over Wigan. Some of the most successful ones are Lucky Hens and the complete transformation of Hindley Train Station.
Shirley explained that the team also does a lot of work with victims, giving young offenders the chance to explain why they did what they did whilst offering victims the chance to explain just how the crime/antisocial behaviour made them feel. She stressed the importance of this part of the team as not only does it give victims the chance to be put at ease and give them a platform to speak, it also gives the young people a sense of understanding and awareness of the very real consequences of their actions.
Following our chat, we followed Shirley to her car, where she took us on to visit some of the projects where young people have gone on to do volunteer work. First she took us to Lucky Hens (an Ince-based project set up mainly to rescue battery farm chickens and help re-house them) who have saved over 9000 chickens from a life of misery over the last few years. Check them out on:http://luckyhensrescuenorthwest.weebly.com/ . We took a quick tour and met the wonderful family of chickens and sheep. We were told about how the young people who come here via the RST often help with mucking out, feeding, building and general duties around the farm. We were also told that young people’s involvement in the project had been so successful that many often come back and volunteer, giving up many weekends at a time to help out.
We then went to visit Hindley Train Station which, thanks to the RST and the young people, has been completely overhauled. Now filled with beautiful flower arrangements, intricate mosaics and plush greenery, its former austere look is only a distant memory. Young people have worked hard landscaping and refreshing the area, making it a beautiful addition to the town. Shirley told us that whilst the young people had made a massive difference to the area, they had also gained valuable skills and experience in hands-on work. And it seems that for many, these skills have been invaluable, with many young people leaving the team to go onto college and take construction courses or leaving with a job in the firm which they volunteered.
It seems the project not only offers different forms of restorative justice but also a way into life for the young people who are usually just stereotyped as trouble and left behind. It’s given young people the opportunity to rectify their mistakes and give something back to their community. Usually when a young person is excluded/suspended, they can often end up sat in the house doing nothing or hanging out with other young people in the same position – which means that the chances of them drifting into anti social behaviour or committing crimes increase. This team offers young people a way out of the cycle, a chance to gain new skills, to give something back and to beat the odds of recurring antisocial behaviour or further criminal acts.
But of course, I wouldn’t expect you to just take my word for it. So I seized the opportunity to talk to a young person who was currently working with the RST. Aged 15, he was going to be suspended, but the schools police officer referred him to the RST. He had just spent the last few days working alongside a Reparation Supervisor to completely renovate an office building in Lowton. Doing everything from painting to building shelves, the young person had put all his effort into working and improving the rooms. He was quick to tell me that this work had helped to inspire him to go onto college and take up a construction course. Whilst he had felt he had learnt new skills, it had also helped to show him what a real day of hard work was like. He felt that the RST filled the gap in which young people are lost with nothing to do when they are excluded/suspended.
It’s an age-old phrase, but it’s true - the RST ‘helps keeps young people off the streets’. With ‘boredom’ often being cited as one of main reasons behind youth crime, this team provides opportunities which work to prevent ‘boredom crimes’ happening again. Restorative justice focuses on the harm caused by crime and aims to repair the harm done to victims and prevent future harm by preventing crime. Teams like the RST insist that offenders take responsibility for their actions and for the harm they have caused and give something back.
Before I left I made sure to talk to one of the adults who were supporting the young man while he was volunteering. Having been a Reparation Supervisor full time for the last year and part time for three years before that, Elaine was keen to tell me how proud she was of the work done by the RST and, of course, by the young people. Having worked with over 100 young people over the last year, she told me how the work her team does has made a massive difference, especially in terms of giving back to the community. Elaine has worked with many young people through different community projects including painting and landscaping, she told me ‘there is always something to do and it’s great to be able to see an outcome and look at the difference you have made.’ Of course, the organisation wouldn’t be where it is without the passion and enthusiasm shown by its staff.
Sadly it was then time for me to go, but I left with a lot to think about. Just by visiting some of the projects the RST supports you can see how much good work they are doing. With places like Hindley Train Station being completely renovated, it goes to show just what young people can do if they put their mind to it. I once read that “You get what you give. What you put into things is what you get out of them.” And I believe this to be true; the RST gives young people the chance to apologise for their mistakes and gives them a chance to put something back, and to ultimately take a positive path in life.
By Jilly McKiernan