Page last updated at 08:49 GMT, Sunday, 20 December 2009

Prisoners 'to help repair canal'

Tthe Montgomery Canal at Welshpool
The repair work on the Montgomery Canal may be helped by prison inmates next year

Prisoners could soon be helping to bridge the skills gap in repair work on a canal.

Discussions are under way for inmates from Shrewsbury prison to lend a hand on the Montgomery Canal.

The aim is for inmates to learn new skills as they help upgrade sections of the 35-mile waterway.

British Waterways regeneration manager Andrew Stumpf said it was hoped the scheme would come into effect early in the new year.

The initiative would be aimed at helping inmates achieve recognised qualifications, he said.

Mr Stumpf said: "A lot of prisoners have skills already. If they are not skilled they can train on the job. There's a wide range of tasks that can be undertaken.

"Even if people have very few skills, you can match the jobs to everyone's ability so that they can all succeed.

7.6m visits made to Wales' waterways every year
Annual visitor spend of £34m
90% of that spend is generated by land-based use
96% of all users are on the land
Source: British Waterways

"A lot of it is about building confidence with the people themselves. They can see they've achieved something. It is something they can look at in the future and take their family to."

Mr Stumpf said the work ranged from unskilled labouring to building trade skills such as carpentry and onto team management.

He said the prisoners would be paid in line with the money they would earn for work inside the jail.

A prison work party would look no different from other groups of volunteers and might even work alongside them, he added.

Typical waterway works could include: towpath construction, grass cutting, hedge-laying, fencing, reconstruction of lengths of the canal and general maintenance such as painting and mortar re-pointing.

Shrewsbury prison governor Gerry Hendry said talks were still in the early stages but said British Waterways was looking to see what skills were missing from the restoration efforts in order for prisoners to help out.

"There is a great shortage of skills at the moment so if we can teach the prisoners the required skills needed to become volunteers then it will be of a great advantage to both them and the canal," he said.


"The scheme would also give the prisoners an opportunity to give something back to society.

"It is a long-term project but hopefully they can help restore the canal back to the magnificent machine it once was."

In October, canal volunteers in Welshpool marked 40 years since restoration work on the canal began.

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