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Bendrigg Alternative Getting back on track

Bendrigg Alternative Providing opportunities to give back

The Bendrigg Alternative (BA) scheme is designed to provide opportunities for offenders or people ‘at risk’ of offending to work alongside, supporting and encouraging disabled people throughout their stay at Bendrigg. Since the scheme’s inception in 1991, many people have benefited from such a positive, and often powerful, experience which has helped change the way they think and relate to others and thereby reduce their offending behaviour.

It provides people with the opportunity to give something back to society, to look at themselves and to put a new perspective on their lives. They have opportunities to give their time and energy to others, share in what really matters, be trusted and valued and be responsible for others. The experience puts their life into context, to see things differently and importantly to be ‘themselves’, which is very difficult when in a custodial situation. What is truly amazing is that everyone rises to the challenge and makes the most of their experience and their time at Bendrigg. It may be hard to believe but, whilst they are here, almost all are selfless and happy to focus on others instead of themselves. As a result they leave on a real high, feeling very pleased with themselves, positive and motivated and able to take something beneficial back into their own lives.

It is up to each individual school or group to decide whether they would like to have a ‘BA’ volunteer supporting them during their stay and, if so, a suitable candidate is found by Lynne Irish, the scheme’s Co-ordinator. ‘BA’s’ can either be on a probation programme, serving a custodial sentence or working towards education and/or employment and the scheme has now been running for over 25 years helping around 30 people annually.

Helping people who have a history of offending has always been an integral part of Bendrigg’s philosophy and we are delighted to have provided placements with such a positive and often life-changing experience. We frequently hear how much their experience has meant to them and how significantly it increases their confidence and self-worth. There is a clear need for the resettlement of offenders and this scheme is proud to do just that. The visiting members of staff are also very grateful for the extra support these volunteers willingly give. Placement reports are written and provide positive feedback, which can be used as a testimonial or as favourable evidence for a parole board or potential employment. A committee oversees the scheme and meets quarterly. The Bendrigg Alternative annual report, which includes many personal statements by the volunteers can be provided on request. A selection of personal statements from some of our recent Bendrigg Alternative Placements are included below and their statements say it all.

It is hard to contain the emotion involved when talking about Bendrigg Lodge. ‘Giving back to society’ is a cliche that is over-used at the best of times, only at Bendrigg is it real.

The Bendrigg Alternative scheme allows people such as myself to show who we can be. It gives us the opportunity to repay the faith shown in us, that we can make amends for our mistakes and channel those efforts into something amazing.

By going to Bendrigg, I gained confidence in my ability to be socially interactive again. It allowed me to be tested but tested in a positive way by being of assistance to those who need it most.

The Bendrigg experience allows us, as offenders to remove the institutionalised feelings we have, where we are rewarded with trust, kindness and honesty. It helped me personally accept who I was and that I have a worth. This has held no bounds upon release as I am now finding success in work and most importantly with my family.

I will never be able to thank Lynne for her kindness and support along my journey.

To all at Bendrigg, THANK YOU.

Bendrigg has helped me through the toughest time of my life. It has given me goals to reach in terms of time…in terms of a distraction from my current position. My experiences at Bendrigg have given me the mantle to really believe in and value myself in a more positive light

Thanks again for the opportunity. This is one of the best things I have done!

They loved the swing today ~ in fact I got a bit emotional ~ a big guy like me. It touches your heart, I didn’t expect that. Also, I am pleased I have been judged for who I am and not from just being in prison

Coming here does make you think differently; it puts things into perspective. I’ve been in prison for only a few years and I’ll be out ~ these guys are in wheelchairs all their life. I have really felt useful to people this week

It has been nice to sit down with people who know nothing about you and can only judge you for the person you are

Confidence is a big thing for me, especially being shy. I was initially holding back because I was apprehensive about the bigger size of the group but I pushed myself forward and got involved. The group were so nice they made it easy for me to relax and be more myself. Being here puts things into perspective. Where I am… it’s easy to whinge about things but places like this make me realise how fortunate I am. The children have disabilities but they can still be positive… so why can’t I?

My highlight this week was being with Matthew in the archery. He has a general weakness of the body so I helped by holding his bow whilst he pulled the string and… he hit the target every time! He punched the air with delight ~ it was a lovely reaction. And it was lovely when he left because he gave me a really big hug. It has been an absolute pleasure… amazing!

I felt I was more able to help the tutors and visiting staff with this being my 4th time. I am gaining more knowledge of myself ~ seeing I am more capable than I ever expected. I live in a bubble and this place absolutely bursts that bubble. You can’t come here and not respect people

This here at Bendrigg is so different from where I live and seeing the different life-styles of the teenagers… it puts life into context. I was thinking… I think everyone should volunteer here for a week because you learn such a lot and you can give something back. I would love to do it again; I phoned to tell my Mum about it

Getting to know the children and being a part of their day-to-day regime was one of the most humbling things I have ever done ~ an experience second only to the birth of my 4 children, without doubt. I feel so grateful to be given the opportunity to be here

Being in ‘real situations’, dealing with teenagers with tantrums and not just being in prison. Just seeing people with good nature ~ going out their way to help others. It’s been give, give, give and not just take, take, take. It was amazingly important for me to come out here