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Page last updated at 12:46 GMT, Wednesday, 19 January 2011
Offenders uncover unusual World War II pillbox
Mushroom pillbox, Longstanton
A few weeks ago this pillbox was buried in brambles, ivy and dead trees

A piece of Cambridgeshire history has been preserved thanks to offenders serving Community Payback sentences.

The eight offenders exposed a rare type of World War II pillbox at Longstanton.

"It's important for the community to be aware they are carrying out their punishment," said Malcolm Stuart, who lead this Community Payback team.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Probation Trust now plans to restore a second pillbox, as a lasting legacy to the wartime generation.

When the Community Payback team turned up at Longstanton to start the work, they had great difficulty in finding the pillbox.

Chris Bradley, Hilary Stroud and Malcolm Stuart
Chris Bradley, Hilary Stroud and Malcolm Stuart in Longstanton

"We actually drove past this three times and couldn't see it," said Mr Stuart. "In the end I parked almost outside it, and I had to ask a member of the public.

"He said, 'Well it's right next to you, in amongst all those trees and ivy and brambles.'"

The low-lying pillbox is a comparatively rare mushroom or cantilevered pillbox, which explained why the undergrowth concealed it so well.

Mr Stuart's offenders discussed its history as they unearthed it from the scrub.

"Some of them, younger members, didn't even know what the pillboxes were for," he said.

World War II

The more usual square pillboxes were built as part of Britain's defences in 1940, when France had fallen, Britain refused to come to terms with Germany and Hitler threatened invasion.

Longstanton's pillbox was built sometime from 1941 onwards, to defend RAF Oakington.

Hilary Stroud, secretary of the Longstanton and District Heritage Society, believes there are only 40 mushroom pillboxes in the country.

"These ones here at RAF Oakington are probably some of the rarest and best preserved examples in the country," she said.

"The advantages of this design were that they were easy to camouflage and meant the aircraft were less likely to crash into them in an emergency situation."

It was an official from South Cambridgeshire District Council who recommended the site for clearance.

The council has to clean up 10 villages a year and conducts village audits with parish councillors to identify places in need of assistance.

View from Longstanton's pillbox
A machine-gunner's view from inside Longstanton's mushroom pillbox

"I clambered through all the brambles and lo and behold this thing was uncovered," explained Chris Bradley, an enforcement officer for South Cambridgeshire District Council.

He was told about the pillbox by Longstanton's parish clerk during the village's audit.

"I thought straight away, this would be a good job for Malcolm and his boys to clean up and show back to the population."

Unpaid labour

Community Payback replaces Community Service. Courts can sentence offenders to up to 300 hours of Community Payback.

While councils like South Cambridgeshire work closely with the probation service to identify projects in need of this supervised, unpaid labour, communities are also encouraged to nominate projects.

"It's a better alternative to prison for a bit of embezzlement, thieving or something like that," explained Bob Andrews, a Community Payback manager in Cambridge. "Sometimes sending people out to give back to their communities is a better solution."

It is much cheaper too.

"You're not going to be able to send people to prison for less than £40,000 a year," he continued.

If you know about a project which could benefit from a Community Payback team, contact the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Probation Trust by clicking on the link below

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