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Social enterprise in Thetford formed to help ex-offenders find employment celebrates successful six months

The Horticulture Industry Scheme co-founder and chief executive Georgina Keatley (left), Co-founder and general manager Tim Melvin and volunteer and master composter Ann Shea. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

The Horticulture Industry Scheme co-founder and chief executive Georgina Keatley (left), Co-founder and general manager Tim Melvin and volunteer and master composter Ann Shea. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

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A project which is helping ex-offenders find employment opportunities through gardening is celebrating a successful first six months.

The Horticulture Industry Scheme which helps ex-offenders by giving them skills through gardening. Picture: Rebecca MurphyThe Horticulture Industry Scheme which helps ex-offenders by giving them skills through gardening. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

The Horticulture Industry Scheme (THIS) offers paid placements to those who have served in low-grade prisons and are given support and training to build on the skills needed to be desirable to employers.

Based at the Charles Burrell Centre in Thetford, the scheme sees the workers, interns and volunteers, planting, nurturing and growing salad leaves, vegetables and edible flowers to sell to local restaurants.

The scheme grows produce including chard, red-veined sorrel, bright and spicy salad mix and a range of edible flowers including borage.

These are then supplied to The Mulberry, Thetford, The Courtyard Restaurant at the Elveden Estate and The Northgate in Bury St Edmunds.

The Horticulture Industry Scheme (THIS) at Thetford. Co-founders Tim Melvin and Georgina Keatley pictured in June. Picture : ANTONY KELLYThe Horticulture Industry Scheme (THIS) at Thetford. Co-founders Tim Melvin and Georgina Keatley pictured in June. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Co-founder and general manager Tim Melvin said: “It has been a learning curve more than anything. You forget how far we have come. We have learnt a lot about the gardening side of things.

“I think the most thing positive thing is how our produce has been received - they absolutely love it.”

So far the scheme - which also helps to steer the ex-offenders to jobs placements - has helped four people.

They spend two-days a week working from 9am to 5pm over a four month period.

But the aim is to help 15 during 2018 now it is up-and-running. To do this, a fundraising page has been set up. The money raised will help to pay for the cost of employing the ex-offender and purchasing beehives and equipment.

Mr Melvin added: “We have not really had any negativity. People just get it. We have been given a manner of things from people, greenhouses and tools. It has been amazing.”

A criminal record can put employers off potential job candidates.

Co-founder and chief executive Georgina Keatley hopes THIS can help to remove the stigma.

Of those who the scheme has helped she said: “They are fantastic workers. We could not have asked for better, they have been great.”

To sponsor the project click here

Visit The Horticulture Industry Scheme for more information about the project.

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