Shaftesbury’s refurbished Bell Street toilets are open for business. The project run by social enterprise Build Love offered on-the-job skills training to Guy’s Marsh prisoners reaching the end of their sentences. And it was completed within budget and almost on schedule.
There was a small cheer at 10am on Thursday as Cllr Lester Taylor declared Shaftesbury’s new-look public toilets open. There was no champagne. That was a shame, because after a couple of glasses, at least one of the assembled party may have been encouraged to officially ‘launch’ the new loos.
Shaftesbury’s tourism businesses have been asking for years for better toilet facilities to enhance the town’s visitor experience. The cleaner interior and lighter, brighter tilling brought nods of approval from Guys Marsh Prison’s Head of Reducing Offending, Tracy Harrison, on her first inspection. “It’s really lovely. And there are so many skills used, like plumbing and tiling. It’s amazing, totally amazing.”
If bubbly had been on offer, the group would have toasted the fortune of one worker. We can’t share his name but on the strength of what he’s learned during this project, he now has a job waiting for him ‘on the outside’.
“He was absolutely over the moon when he found out that this was going to happen to him. We made it very clear that it is up to him to look after this opportunity,” said Guys Marsh Industries Manager, Jeremy Swinburn.
“The job he has been given is with another local business. It means that the local communities want to get behind rehabilitating men. We’re getting some good community links, which is really important,” said Tracy.
Tracy cautioned that, even with skills, former prisoners still face massive challenges in finding work. “They are often quite frightened about saying they have been to prison because they are afraid of what employers will think about them,” she said. “This is massively important. Without employment you can’t have accommodation. Without accommodation, you can’t do all the other things you want to do. This really does put them in a good position not to reoffend again. It breaks the cycle.”
“It was quite brave for Shaftesbury Town Council to take him on,” Jeremy added. “There are not a lot of people who would open their arms and help with rehabilitation. It’s a really big ask for the community because these people have damaged some communities.”
It was good to hear Jeremy say that the man was offered words of encouragement from locals who were passing the loos during the works. “They were quite supportive of him and complimentary about him coming out and helping,” he said.
The inmate was able to take part in this project because the lengthy assessment process confirmed that he was a ‘low risk’. Tracy hopes that the ‘Release On Temporary Licence’ or ‘ROTL’ rules will change, because it is difficult to enrol medium and higher risk men on these kinds of community jobs. “The government realise when you can give men opportunities like this there is less chance of them coming back,” she said.
Using prisoners as staff has helped reduce the Town Council’s costs and Jeremy said the collaboration benefitted Guys Marsh too. “It’s good news for the prison to have us featured for the right reasons, rather than the wrong reasons,” he said.
The work was a collaboration between the Town Council’s Grounds Team, Weston College, the prison and Build Love. Nikki Dodd says she’ll never forget this development because it’s the first one that her not-for-profit company Build Love has undertaken. “This is going to be quite memorable. The support and encouragement from people going past has been great and really nice to hear,” she said.
Nikki went on to praise the contribution of Andy Dodd and the Council’s workers. “They put up signs, the plaques on the walls. It looks brilliant. They have done such a good job in such a short time,” she said. There was a slight delay in opening because the delivery of the loos’ bold blue doors was held up.
These new toilets have retained the designated spaces for male, female and disabled users. There are no urinals installed – that was to reduce the cost and allow future flexibility if the decision is made to offer unisex toilets, which is the current trend in public loos.
Cllr Lester Taylor was pleased with the result from the partnership approach. “We want to build on this concept and it is fantastic to see that we’re working with the community more and more and wider and wider. I hope we can expand this to other areas of our activities,” added Lester.
And Jeremy says that the working relationship between Guys Marsh with Build Love will continue on a project at Shaftesbury’s Oasis Pool. “We’re looking to repaint the foyer at the swimming pool. There are other Shaftesbury projects we’re talking about, too. In Gillingham were going to be working on flower boxes with Gillingham in Bloom. I think after today, we’re going to get a few more phone calls from other people asking ‘can you help us?’ That will be even more positive,” Jeremy said.