Page last updated at 18:27 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Community payback offenders help flood-hit Cumbria

By Anna Foster
BBC Radio 5 live's Gabby Logan show

Community Payback offenders
Offenders clear up debris at Cockermouth Memorial Gardens

Convicted criminals have joined the ranks of workers clearing up the devastation left by last year's floods in Cumbria.

It is the first time offenders on community payback sentences have been used to provide relief to a flood-hit area.

There is no shortage of work for them to do.

Cockermouth Memorial Gardens, alongside the River Derwent, used to be popular with families and dog walkers.

Now it is a mass of mud and scattered rocks.

An uprooted lamp-post lies twisted and broken on the ground.

The nearby buildings display a dirty tide mark showing just how high the flood-water rose.

It is well above head height.

Hard graft

Richard is a convicted thief.

"This is my first offence", he says. "It'll definitely be my last one as well."

Despite the fluorescent orange vest he has to wear, branded with the words "community payback", he is enjoying the work.

It has to be hard, physical graft - a punishment for the crimes committed.

The men working here now agree it certainly feels like that.

More than 2,000 homes and businesses were flooded in this part of West Cumbria last November.

"The clean-up needs to be done, and locals are glad to see offenders out there doing it"
Community payback manager Lynne Huddart

Although in many cases work to restore them has begun, it is a slow process.

Yellow skips filled with ruined carpets and broken furniture are still a common sight on the streets of Cockermouth.

The Association of British Insurers has estimated the repair bill at £200m.

As lunchtime approaches, the offenders have moved on to clearing and cleaning a wooden footbridge that once crossed the river at Cockermouth.

It was torn from its moorings by the force of the flood-water and now lies forlornly on the bank, thickly covered with dried-out branches.

The men are stripping it bare, filling a nearby skip to the brim with the debris.


Mark is manoeuvring an overflowing wheelbarrow up a steep, muddy bank.

He is serving his community payback for assault.

"I've been in and out of prison all my life", he says.

"I've never really had a chance. This is the chance I've got."

Unlike the homes and businesses being stripped and dried out by teams of workers, these little parcels of community land can fall through the cracks.

Community Payback offenders Richard and Mark
Richard (left) and Mark are serving community payback sentences

They are not a priority, but for those who live nearby they are an ugly daily reminder of the devastation the floods caused.

Community payback manager Lynne Huddart is convinced making offenders rebuild their own community gives their work more of a sense of purpose.

"We got involved here after the local flood relief co-ordinator asked us to help," she says.

They have already fixed fences on farmers' grazing land and cleared rubbish from a park.

"People outside Cumbria can forget how badly these areas were affected, and that it's still going on," says Lynne.

"The clean-up needs to be done, and locals are glad to see offenders out there doing it."

Print Sponsor

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30 Jan 10 |  Manchester
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