Open prison, open plan

‘What a varied life you lead’ said the Chief Execuive of the Lincolnshire Rural Housing Association, ‘no day must be the same for you’. Well, it’s true, but it is also true of the life of a parish priest. Variety is not only the spice of life for us, it is ‘life’. However, it is interesting to note that in the last two days I have been part of two ventures, both very different, but both in their own ways illustrative of the ‘variety’ which is a bishop’s life: yesterday I attended a service in the North Sea Camp open prison (the one that entertained Jeffrey Archer) to dedicate and bless a beautiful new garden which had been designed and built by a former prisoner and by present ones. Alongside this, we dedicated a memorial to those who had died in the second world war and had gone out from this camp when it housed the forces. It was a humbling experience, for we tend to think of prisons as cruel and inhuman places-and there are some who suggest they should be-but here, in the comparative barrenness of the Lincolnshire Fen, a place of beauty and of hope had been constructed. It caused me to get a little mawkish, and recall the poem, one verse of which reads: ‘you are nearer to God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on Earth’. Well, that may or may not be true but, if prison is about restitution and the restoration of broken lives then a garden, where new life happens in the seasons; where humanity works in cooperation with Divine nature to produce new beauty and glory and where the innate, God-given goodness of Creation can be experienced first-hand, then I think I agree. The chaplain and others at the Camp are working hard to demonstrate that the prison is a ‘community’ facility: it belongs not just to wrongdoers, but to you and I on whose behalf people are incarcerated. Whilst the prisoner is held accountable for their actions in prison, so we must bear responsibility for having put them there to protect ourselves and society. I am pleased to see that this responsibility is being exercised in this institution, and that it is being exercised to demonstrate that prison is not just a place of punishment but is also a place where we express the hope that people can change their lives for the good, and that we must help them in that. When you consider that England has one of the largest prison populations in Europe, little North Sea Camp may have something to tell us.

Today, to the AGM of the Lincolnshire Rural Housing Association of which I am President-a great honour. This organisation, based in Horncastle, has built upwards of 300 dwellings, in an affordable and sustainable way, to enable people to continue to live in the rural areas of Lincolnshire. I opened the latest development at Bicker (called Bishop Way, humblingly) earlier on this year. It is a street of low-cost, environmentally friendly housing brought as flat-packs from Sweden, and the evidence is that the young families love living there. We are about to build a small complex of entirely carbon neutral housing at Long Sutton, using earth-bunding methods of construction. The complex in Bicker overlooks a new windfarm. I asked one of the residents whether she liked or loathed it. ‘It’s great’ she said ‘I think they’re beautiful’.  Gives you hope for the future doesn’t it?    Why not follow the links to see more.

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~ by Tim Ellis on September 4, 2008.

One Response to “Open prison, open plan”

  1. Great blogging Tim – from an old friend from college days, Sheffield and a very wet Whitby camping trip! – David

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