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New Roots: ex-offenders trained in practical horticulture and conservation

New Roots trainees at work

New Roots is a project set up to engage ex-offenders in practical horticulture and conservation activities, with an aim to improve their employment prospects.

"A secluded place in north London with a group of ex-offenders and a variety of sharp tools is not normally a place you’d feel safe; but, while making a waffle fence and using large bill hooks, I chatted with Neil, a man arrested and imprisoned after chasing someone with a machete. This is horticulture; the land where a weapon becomes a tool." - Karolina Leszczynska-Gogol: Senior Project Officer (New Roots) 

Set up to engage ex-offenders in practical horticulture and conservation activities New Roots seeks to improve their employment prospects, the struggle to find work is often a trigger for re-offending.

I don't understand what it is about this place, but it makes me so calm to be here (Tariq, a New Roots participant from Phoenix Futures)

Many of the participants face multiple problems once leaving prison. Some are homeless; others have family problems, and many are struggling with addiction. The course, at a basic level, gives them something to do, but it also builds their self-esteem, and helps them re-discover their motivation to get back into work.

At Dartmoor Prison the benefits of education in horticulture and wildlife conservation have been recognised. In conjunction with the Eden Project, they have invested in a garden inside the prison where inmates grow vegetables and tend plants, giving them new skills, improving their psychological well-being, and enhancing their prospects upon release. The New Roots project hopes to roll out a similar programme at Holloway prison, but the process can be slow and  often bogged down in bureaucracy.

Given the knowledge, skills, and opportunity in horticulture and wildlife conservation, ex-offenders can discover there is an alternative to crime, and successfully re-integrate into society.

The New Roots project has been made possible by the generous support of the Ashden Trust, Bromely Trust and the Brian Woolf Charitable trust.

The project partners for New Roots are: 

  • Holloway Prison (ex-offenders and prisoners)
  • Phoenix Futures (people recovering from drug and alcohol addictions)
  • New Horizon (young people from disadvantaged backgrounds)
  • NHS St Pancras Hospital (groups of people with mental health issues)