A blooming ace group as members transform their lives for the better
Proving there is life after prison, a group of ex-offenders have formed a strong bond, aiming to create positive work in their community.
MAP (Men After Prison) was created as a secondary group of Caritas Care’s ACE (Assisted Community Engagement) project, a support system for people with mental health problems, substance misuse issues or with a criminal background.
Both schemes were established by Preston-based charity Caritas Care who deliver services across the North West supporting children, families and communities.
Wishing to break away from the negative stereotypes, MAP launched in March, assisting in community projects, such as speaking to children to prevent them from turning to crime and supporting Caritas Care’s work.
One of their key projects has been working with youngsters aged 16 to 17 from the National Citizen Service (NCS) to spruce up a plot of land on an allotment off Blackpool Road.
A group of 20 people took just two days to clear the space, which has been aptly called Blooming ACE.
Gary Jackson, 45, peer mentor for MAP, says: “Opportunities for us are few and far between, so when we are given them, we embrace it. I chose to be a mentor to give something back and get people back to where they should be. If someone from the same background as you is your mentor, you can relate more and it helps you move forward.
“With three other members, I helped set up MAP to encourage others to change their lives.”
Charles Gayle, volunteer co-ordinator for ACE, who has been supporting MAP, adds: “Preston City Council Parks gave us the space for free for this year and next as it was overgrown and needed someone to look after it.
“We joined forces with NCS, who was looking for a social action project. This was a great project to bring people together. A lot of people we work with tend to be marginalised, so it is great that young people can see them as positive. NCS raised £90 through its Facebook page, Kindness Doesn’t Cost @doesntcost, which we used to buy wheelbarrows and they came down to help us.
“A lot of organisations, including the local police team, and B&Q donated tools for us, which we appreciated.”
The MAP team have great plans for the allotment space now they have cleared it.
They intend to create raised beds and grow vegetables. With a few trees in the allotment plot, they will build bird boxes and insect houses, which will attract local wildlife. Next year they will expand their work to include flower beds.
Sharon Smith, ACE project manager, says: “This has been a huge community effort. Everybody has pulled together and we have received a lot of donations. The MAP members have been getting advice from other allotment users.
“We appreciate the support from NCS. It has been great for them to work with adults with complex issues and get to know them as individuals.
“This project has been great for improving health and wellbeing but getting people to do something productive and grow things.
“I can’t wait to see what it all looks like when it is completed.
“ACE and MAP are all about focusing on the positives. Members of MAP use their experiences to help others. They do workshops with children to prevent them from going through the same thing they did.
“The allotment is just the beginning for them as they continue to develop and maintain it.”
For more information on Caritas Care visit www.caritascare.org.uk.