What did the probationers do for us? (Or – from a parody to a paradox)

Doug Fullbrook (left) and Community Payback team superviser Malcolm Stewart at Newton Playing Field.
Doug Fullbrook (left) and Community Payback team superviser Malcolm Stewart at Newton Playing Field.
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Do you remember the film ‘The Life of Brian’ and the line “What did the Romans do for us!?” Well, they may not have given us the roads, the bridges and the aqueducts, and we’re not living in Jerusalem, but the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Probation Trust Payback Teams have contributed much to improve the lot of all of us living in Cambridgeshire – and all for free.

It’s now more than 4 years since they first came to Newton in the Isle during which time their contribution has ranged from clearing snow on footpaths to improving the drainage on the playing field (yes – we have found a pipe). Hedges have been cut, paths improved, the roundabout repaired, trees pruned and much debris and scrub cleared from the old school site; the list is not exhaustive. Beneficiaries include the church, the bowls club, the village hall, the parish council, the Newton fete and, ultimately, all the residents of Newton.

The Newton playing field project benefitted to the tune of £1900, the value of their work in-kind contribution when costed, and enabled an equivalent sum to be secured in grant funding for play equipment.

Throughout, there has never been a cross word, dissent or failure to deliver the goods. Their willingness to help is a tribute to the skill and dedication of the line managers and supervisors whose job it is to ensure wrongdoers pay their debt by giving something back to society: And what about the boys (and some girls) themselves? You may consider some to be a lost cause but it is not for us to judge. The majority appreciate a challenge and work cheerfully to deliver a result.

If achievement can be measured in terms of tea, coffee and biscuits consumed then I suggest it is a small price to pay. Altogether, it is a mutually beneficial and satisfactory arrangement.

For the good of us all may they long continue to help – but a chill wind is blowing.

There is talk of privatisation, devolution and profit. The free service may not continue to be free and work could remain undone unless money (that dreadful stuff) changes hands. What a dilemma for us and for the Probation Trust – if we cannot pay will the payback teams be forced to sit around drinking tea whilst we’re faced with having to do the work ourselves? Hark! do I hear the sound of feet retreating into the distance?

Doug Fullbrook

Newton Parish Council