Museum boss's pledge on prisoners

MUSEUM of East Anglian Life director Tony Butler has moved to reassure residents that there will be no sex offenders, violent criminals or arsonists undertaking work on the 70-acre site as they expand their army of volunteers.

By John Howard

MUSEUM of East Anglian Life director Tony Butler has moved to reassure residents that there will be no sex offenders, violent criminals or arsonists undertaking work on the 70-acre site as they expand their army of volunteers.

The museum, in the heart of Stowmarket, is building on the success of using prisoners to create nature trails around the grounds.

Now managers are setting up a social enterprise business that will work with more offenders, the long term unemployed, and the disabled offering them work and training on the grounds in areas including estate management and horticulture.

Mr Butler said: “It is no secret that we are not flush with cash and by working with volunteers, people with skills we can use, we can do extra work on site and help people who are not working at the moment, for whatever reason, to return to employment and build up their skills and confidence.

“We have had offenders around the site before from Hollesley Bay open prison near Woodbridge, creating our nature trail. That start was very positive and very successful and we are building on it.

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“It will be good for everyone and help the socially disadvantaged. It will help us provide additional services for the public, nice gardens, flowers, hanging baskets, and we will be very, very strict about who we take on from the prisons.

“We will only have a few at a time and there will be no sex offenders, violent criminals or arsonists. Basically we will be helping first time offenders, usually for fraud, and minor offences.

“We are really aware this is an important public space and do not want to compromise the safety of our visitors.

“The project will be up and running during the summer and already we have 50 people interested, and we can't take everyone, there will be places for about seven people at a time to do unpaid work.”

The expanded volunteer programme comes after one ex-con, a former tree surgeon, saved the museum a lot of money working on site and who went on to run his own thriving business on release.

The expansion in volunteers at the Museum of East Anglian Life comes amid exciting times as the popular attraction could undergo its biggest make-over in decades, as managers bid for £3.7million in lottery and other grants to transform the site by 2009.

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