Walking through our local parks, it’s a common sight to see teams of Community Payback (CPB) men and women in high viz jackets working in the gardens. They are people convicted of minor offences who undertake community service imposed on them by the courts.
Magistrates and Judges can order offenders to do between 40 hours and 300 hours of community service. They are expected to carry out a minimum of six hours work a week while wearing bright jackets. This is so local people know who they are and what they are up to.
Last year, following a drink-driving conviction, Wayne Rooney was sentenced to a twelve-month community order, forcing him to do 120 hours of unpaid work. With pictures of his fall from grace all over the press, I’m guessing the lack of pay was the least of his worries.
Recently, I spotted a few enforced garden operatives in Vauxhall Park; some working hard, some not so much. They were plainly surprised to be approached but most were happy to talk.
I spoke to both men and women and the general view was that if they had to endure community punishment then this was a pretty good option. Having said that, it was a sunny day; the verdict might have been a little different in March.
In our neighbourhood Vauxhall One, a non-profit organisation owned and led by local businesses, works with Community Payback participants. The project which was made possible by an arm of the Probation Service, the London Community Rehabilitation Company, has been running for five years and happens every Monday between 9am-4pm with a maximum of 10 participants.
Speaking to Javier Flores, Vauxhall One’s Environmental Services Manager, he stresses they take on work the council is either reluctant or doesn’t have the resources to tackle.
A case in point is Goding Street. It backs on to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and is where, at closing time, assorted ravers and party goers spill out on to the street from the busy clubs and restaurants. Over the weekend this creates an enormous amount of mess and by Monday morning it resembles a war zone. As Javier says: ‘Visitors like to park and extend their party time, drinking, smoking and (engaging in) other types of anti-social behaviour’. So, every Monday the CPB get stuck in and clear the street of all the party detritus.
Other tasks that Javier oversees are painting the railings on Albert Embankment, removing graffiti, cleaning telephone boxes and of course gardening. They also help dispose of trashed or forgotten street furniture and remove ever-present supermarket trolleys.
Vauxhall One provides CPB people with the necessary clothing and tools and a place to eat. They are currently in discussion with The London Community Rehabilitation Company over adding an additional working day on Saturdays.
Last word to Javier: ‘CPB has become an invaluable help on keeping central Vauxhall tidy and clean’.
Despite seeing the paybackers all over our borough, The Office of National Statistics indicates numbers are dropping. In 2007, across the UK, 191,000 convicted criminals received community orders. Last year that figure had dropped to 99,000.
The decrease in community sentences may be caused by judges issuing suspended prison terms, where an offender walks free but is jailed if they commit a further offence.
Right now, Vauxhall Park is looking magnificent, and that is, at least in part, thanks to work undertaken by people who would not necessarily describe themselves as gardeners.