A new Corrections initiative in Invercargill has offenders developing basic building and joinery skills and using these to make a variety of furniture products for local not for profit schools and kindergartens.

The programme involves offenders on a community work sentence who serve their sentence on Saturdays. It is being driven by Community Work Supervisor (CWS) Paul Boatwood, who is also a qualified joiner and has vast experience in the building trade both in New Zealand and Australia.

Paul Boatwood with a dolls house built at Community CorrectionsDistrict Manager, Glenn Morrison says the response from both the recipients of the furniture and toys made by the offenders, and the offenders themselves has been very positive.

“Initiatives like this assists with meeting people’s sentence requirement of giving back to the community - in this case by providing community groups with well-made furniture and play equipment they may not be able to otherwise afford - and it also supports the Work and Living Skills component of their sentence - where offenders access training to help them develop the skills and aptitudes for better life opportunities and choices.”

“Compliance, getting people to turn up and serve their sentence, can be a challenge in the community work space,“ he says. “The Community work party on this programme are engaged and excited to be part of it. We actually have a waitlist of offenders wanting to get on it.”

Around 90 offenders have gone through the programme over the past eight months.  Between them, they have built over 100 items including tables, chairs, dolls houses, mud kitchens, planter boxes, mail boxes and toy cars.

After being approved for safety and quality, these products are gifted to community not for profit groups, including local schools and kindergartens. Due to their size, many items are built in kitset and put together by another work party on site.

The items are generally made from donated hardwood wooden pallets, which are broken down before the timber is transported back to the Community Corrections site centre.

The people involved can also use their new found skills around their own homes, to fix things or build their own furniture or garden bed, and to help family and friends. Some may find that they have a real interest in building or joinery and are keen to explore further training or opportunities for employment in this area.

Harry* is one of the men on the Saturday morning building team. He says he hasn’t done much building in the past “I have used a hammer before,” he says, “but only for real basic stuff.”

“I am learning about angles, making things level, and how to use different tools, and how important it is to measure stuff up right so it fits. Apart from doing my hours, I’m learning stuff, and hopefully I can get a job in the building industry.”

“My mum dropped some pallets off to me, so I’m making up things at home like wee picnic tables. I’m keen to learn more, maybe at Polytech or get an apprenticeship building.”

Paul Boatwood says Corrections staff have had great feedback about the quality of the workmanship from recipients, and now have a long list of schools and kindergartens requesting different types of furniture.

Members of the Invercargill Woodworking Guild who visited recently also said they were impressed by the quality of the products being produced.

“Many of the people involved had no prior building skills, but now feel confident in their ability, learning about angles, using different tools, and the importance of measuring up things accurately so it all fits in together.” Paul says. “They tell me that they wouldn’t have done this if they had not been on the work party.”

“The majority of participants have young children and are happy the items are going back into the community and into the schools,” he says

“The project gives those involved a great sense of achievement. The learners love making something and giving back to the community. They are so into it, I have to tell them to stop working and take a lunch break,” he says

He knows of at least eight people in the current group who have had a go at building furniture at home, and says one of the men has said he has a desire to continue further study in this area.

“With the right skills, it doesn’t cost a lot to create something useful for the home,” says Paul. “A table, a garden bed - the options are endless… whatever they imagine.” Paul hopes to extend the programme over the next six months to allow offenders to be more creative in terms of what schools and kindergartens would like. This will give the offenders more flexibility in what they are constructing; it could be things like toy race cars, bird baths, letter boxes etc