Deputy PCC Opens New Retreat in Risca

Gwent DPCC Paul Harris was joined by volunteers this afternoon to cut the ribbon and officially open the project delivered by the Lylac Ridge organisation which has seen them rejuvenate 16 acres of land next to their stables at Dan y Graig in Risca.

After years of tireless planning the community ground is now officially open and, despite the poor weather conditions, the guests enjoyed a leisurely walk around the site and met some of the Reindeer who have made it their home. They were then treated to a BBQ under cover and the Deputy PCC had a chance to speak to some of the volunteers involved in the project.

The funding came through Gwent PCC Ian Johnston's Partnership Fund which awards cash seized from criminals to support projects such as this one which have a positive impact on their community. Established in 2008, the Lylac Ridge centre provides animal assisted therapy and alternative education and wellbeing programmes for children, young adults, adults with learning difficulties, offenders and those excluded from schools.

In March 2013 the organisation took over the management of land next to their stables from the local authority. At the time the area was attracting visitors of the anti-social behaviour kind and there were problems with underage drinking and children and young people deliberately starting fires.

The £7,988 awarded from the Commissioner in September 2014 has been spent on working with volunteers and ex-offenders to redevelop the land into an area which the whole community can enjoy. With the help of local crime prevention partners and networking partners, the land has now been transformed.

There are flowers, trees and shrubs and animal enclosures have been erected on the site so that members of the public can enjoy the range of exotic animals kept by Lylac Ridge, including their Reindeer and Alpacas. Educational signs with facts about the community and the animals have been installed and brand new picnic and seating areas have also been created so that families can socialise. New footpaths have also been built and appropriate drainage for the land has been created.

The project took nearly six months to complete and involved support from nearly 30 people including ex-offenders referred to the project as part of their community rehabilitation as well as a range of volunteers in the community. The project also supported those not in training, education or employment and helped them to develop a range of transferable skills.

The Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, Paul Harris, said: "Anti-social behaviour is an area of concern for many of our residents. By supporting projects such as this one we hope to tackle some of those concerns by providing a safe and fun environment which the whole community can enjoy. This is truly a worthwhile initiative and it's impressive to see unpaid work carried out by ex- offenders and volunteers directly benefiting the local community. The projects funded through the Partnership Fund are making a genuine positive difference to people's lives in Gwent and it's great to see the ill-gotten gains of criminals being used to improve the lives of the law-abiding majority."

Kim Griffiths, a Director at Lylac Ridge, said: "The project has provided those involved with the opportunity to contribute something back into the community whilst learning valuable new skills and meeting new people. It has also instilled them with a sense of ownership and responsibility. The success of the project is reflected in the fact that many of those involved have decided to carry on volunteering with us. We now have a great facility where the local community can come to enjoy a fun day out with all the family."

Mike Mogford is a Project Mananger with the Wales Rehabilitation Company which provides a range of probation services to help reduce reoffending and protect the public from harm. Working with his Supervisors, Mike managed two teams of ex-offenders over two months who worked on the project to develop their skills as part of their rehabilitation.

"The teams cleared footpaths through the land, installed around 1000 meters of fencing and built pens and compounds for the reindeer and the other animals," said Mike.

"The team really took ownership of the project, developed a range of skills and learnt about discipline. It was great to see ex-offenders working with money from the proceeds of crime to do some good in the community. The work was carried out in the winter months as well and they tackled all the elements, including sleet and snow, to get the job done."