Prisoners helping to tackle housing crisis in the South West by building 'eco-pod' homes

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Prisoners are helping to tackle the housing crisis in the West Country by building environmentally-friendly 'eco-pod' homes.

The project - led by the South West Reducing Reoffending Partnership - intends to teach prisoners from across the region a range of construction skills and work experience while they serve their sentence.

The South West Reducing Reoffending Partnership was set up in 2019 and brings together partners from across the region including police commissioners in Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

The Diocese of Gloucester, West of England combined authority and The Cabinet Office are also involved in the project.

Once the pods are build they will be able to be transported to wherever they are needed.

A Spokesperson from SWRR told ITV News West Country: "They can be moved to any local authority in the region where there is space.

"We are in the early stages at the moment but the hope is that we will get to a stage where other authorities will want to purchase eco-pods."

What are the eco-pod homes like?

The eco-pod homes will offer affordable accommodation for people in the community, using low carbon methods and high energy efficiency to reduce energy bills for the occupants.

Four Prisoners from HMP Leyhill have been working alongside professional construction workers to put together the pods at a warehouse near the prison.

The four prisoners are nearing the end of their sentences and the work they do building the eco-pods will ease the transition into employment after their release.

The prison's governor Steve Hodson said: "What it's teaching them, as well as a really good work ethic, is a lot of transferable skills that's going to allow them to, on release, go out and gain employment when they've completed their sentence."

One prisoner said taking part in the construction of the homes made him confident he would gain employment after his release.

“The fact it involved learning new skills, using recycled materials to create an environmentally-friendly product and helping to solve the housing crisis - it ticked all my boxes," he said.

"I’ve been doing everything from painting, scaffolding, roofing, flooring, metal construction.

“It’s quite hard outside going into employment, having to do disclosure and explaining where you’ve been for the past few years, so if I could get full time employment doing this it would be great.

The eco pod homes will offer affordable accommodation for people in the community, using low carbon methods and high energy efficiency Credit: SWRRP

"I’m really confident that when I come out after this sentence I will make a success of my life," he added.

Another prisoner involved in the scheme says he feels everyone in prison should be offered a project like this.

“To be able to come somewhere like here where they give you an opportunity and a chance, it really allows people to flourish," he said.

The scheme intends to teach prisoners a range of construction skills while they serve their sentence. Credit: SWRRP

“Regardless of their background, I think everyone (in prison) could benefit from this.

"It gets you used to being at work and being committed to something. For a lot of people, crime happens when they don’t have any money, so if they’ve got the chance to work and realise they can work, it can only be of benefit.”

Angus Fraser, from MMC Homebuild Ltd, said: "We were as nervous as they were when we went and had the interview process.

"For each of them this was first job or opportunity to work outside of the prison. The idea is that we can do this, take concept to areas of social deprivation where we can provide full time work and build high quality affordable housing."

The Diocese of Gloucester has already named its intention to purchase six pods once suitable land in a community has been identified. Credit: SWRRP

Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Alison Hernandez said: “We want to help people who have been in the prison system and make sure they have purpose both in prison and outside.

“This project is all about keeping people busy and giving them a purpose while providing a service that is really useful to our society.

"Not only does it equip prisoners with valuable skills and a great work ethic, it also creates essential housing for those who are most in need."

The Diocese of Gloucester has said it intends to purchase six pods once suitable land in a community has been identified.

The pods will then be used to house vulnerable people in Gloucestershire.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Anglican Bishop to HM Prisons, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, said: “This project is a wonderful and creative way of giving some of the most vulnerable people in society a chance at a fresh start.

"Living pods have the potential not only to provide homes for those leaving prison but for anyone requiring affordable and accessible accommodation."

She went on to say: "These homes are the sort of transformation that I want to be part of. The sort of world I want to be living in".

The SWRRP partnership has already identified public land for up to 70 homes