How Refurbishing Shaftesbury’s Loos Is Reshaping Lives

Shaftesbury’s public loos will be open for the start of the tourism season The work is being undertaken by a one-woman social enterprise, determined to help men leave Guys Marsh Prison with increased options for their future employment.

Keri Jones from ThisIsAlfred reports.

Nikki Dodds is the founder of community enterprise Build Love. Nikki’s team is refurbishing Shaftesbury Town Council’s Bell Street toilets. And the project gaffer is a grafter. Dressed in a woolly hat and lemon coloured hi-viz jacket, Nikki paused from painted railings so we could chat.

Whilst some builders are focussed on profit, Nikki’s initiative is all about helping men who are about to leave prison. She first worked on a ‘prisoner resettlement’ skills project in London’s Brixton Prison. Nikki came here to make a difference in the town where he she spent her childhood holidays. “All of my family’s in Shaftesbury, but I actually now live in Wells,” she said.

Nikki Dodds from Build Love

Build Love has been collaborating with Guys Marsh Prison for a year. “I approached them with this idea to run a social enterprise, training the men in construction skills. They currently have training with Weston College, their training provider. I approached them with the idea to set up some sort of project where we can link up with the outside, hopefully help with employment opportunities and work experience, which will help the men when they are released,” said Nikki.

Nikki says it has taken a lot of time and effort to develop the project. “It has been a year in planning and reaching out to local community groups and charities,” she said. And she’s proud of her local connections. She told me how her grandfather had moved down from the Midlands and became landlord of the former Rose and Crown pub on Shaftesbury’s High Street. Her uncle looked after the bowling green.

She wanted to work in our area when she read the 2016 report into Guys Marsh by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. “It was quite scathing and quite negative. It made me think when I moved back this way I would contact Guys March and see about setting up something similar to the initiative that I’d worked on in London, but down here,” she said.

Nikki found the prison authorities open to ideas. “The team there I found to be surprisingly progressive in their thinking, actually,” she said.

Nikki says she is not motivated by money. She wants to make a difference. “It’s a social enterprise so there is the business side to it. It makes money to sustain the projects. There is a lock on profits, which means that money is reinvested back into the good cause and the core purpose of the company. It’s locked legally so the profit can’t be used to buy me a Jaguar of something,” Nikki laughs.

She has experience in different trades. “I was an apprentice for a plasterer. It didn’t last too long because plastering is really difficult. I picked up a paintbrush and it was ‘okay, you do plastering and I’ll just paint it when it’s finished’. I’ve been self-employed as a painter and decorator for probably the last four years. I have done a bit of project management as well,” she said.

All of the Guys Marsh men working with Nikki are low risk and are allowed ‘release on temporary licence’, or ROLT. “Mark is near the end of his sentence. He will be released at the end of May. By doing ROTL, it means they’re allowed to do weekend visits back home too. It’s really good for men who are at the end of their sentence. A few of them work at the Jailhouse Café,” said Nikki.

Mark, whose home is in Glastonbury, was busy tiling and painting. “It gets me out and obviously I can learn some new skills from this and progress into the future,” said Mark. And he says he’s enjoying tiling. “This is my first day but I am starting to get into it. It is a very expensive mistake if you cut it wrong, so it takes a bit of concentration. I’ve worked on building sites before but my role has been groundworks. This is new to me.”

Mark said that Nikki has been a good manager. “She is as good as gold,” he smiled. He’s gained some skills that he will be able to use in the future. “Obviously I have always done painting and decorating at home but the tiling side of it, I haven’t really done much of. I’m hoping to take that from here.”

Nikki was delighted to be awarded the toilet renovation contract by Shaftesbury Town Council. The loo refurbishment is a partnership between Nikki’s company Build Love and the Town Council staff, led by Andy Dodd. Public toilet expert, Piers Dibben of Healthmatic, is making sure that the work meets compliance standards.

And the arrangement means that the Council has been able to spend fewer pennies. “Our grounds team at Shaftesbury Town Council have been utilising their skills really effectively and that has kept the costs down. It’s a very cost effective option for us to be working in partnership with Guys Marsh,” said Town Council Business Manager Brie Logan.

“The actual cost for this project is in the region of £35,000, of which the majority is for the new semi-automated doors. The whole look of the toilet block will be completely different. There’s new sanitary ware and building materials. We’ve still got four cubicles and there will be the disabled facility,” added Brie.

“Shaftesbury Town Council have been very ‘open arms’ about it and really embraced the project,” said Nikki. “They have offered us our first proper opportunity, which is amazing. The first of many, we hope.”

Guys Marsh inmates are also learning woodworking skills through Build Love’s commission to create signs for the circular North Dorset walking route, The White Hart Link, which passes through Shaftesbury and Motcombe. “We’re looking at making some fingerposts for them, so we’ve got a few guys who are working in the workshop in the prison at the moment, testing out their carpentry and working on the woodwork,” said Nikki.

“Graham Stanley, who is the Head Ranger from Dorset County Council, has come in and he has done a workshop with the men. He’s imparted some skills and knowledge and that’s been greatly received. The prison has feedback forms from all the men who take part in anything like that. They’re really nice to read,” she added.

Now Nikki has decided that she’s going to concentrate her Build Love work around our area. “Shaftesbury and North Dorset is where we are going to be,” she said. And the 31-year-old businesswoman has plans to extend this social enterprise, adding to her range of services and skills being taught.

She’s singlehandedly driving the business forward. “The main person right now is me but I’m looking for tradespeople locally to get involved in projects, as well just to add extra capacity and extra skills and experience. Hopefully it will be needed as we move into getting more projects in painting, maintenance and decorating. I am angling for local authorities but maybe more commercial or other contract opportunities with local housing associations,” said Nikki.

It’s likely that the new, brighter and more pleasant Bell Street loos will be ready for the start of the tourism season, by 4th March, as planned. “We’re going to be be doing some painting at the end of this week and next week we’re just clearing up. I think the team here are well on schedule,” said Nikki.

With her first council collaboration under her belt, Nikki is determined that Build Love should build on that success.