Community Spirit and Restorative Justice in Action

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20 August 2019


Sunderland Home Grown Community Interest Company, based in Sunderland, a well-respected social enterprise within the local community has partnered with the Youth Offending Service to deliver restorative justice after youths caused substantial damage. Sunderland Home Grown CIC stocks a wide range of bedding plants, herbs and shrubs

In 2017 the organisation acquired a piece of almost derelict land on Thompson Park with a vision to support youngsters and the local community, especially groups of vulnerable children and adults with learning and physical disabilities. It was a vision to gain valuable work experience and acquire new skills in horticulture.

But in the early hours, one morning in October 2018, three youths broke into the premises in Thompson Park, Southwick and caused extensive damage. The youths smashed the greenhouse, slashed poly tunnels and trashed flowers, plants and project work that a group of children had been working on for several weeks. The damage was estimated at £500.

Gary and Deb, two managers who run the project described how the following morning, staff and service users arrived as normal to find the damage.

Gary Hillery said: “Everyone was very upset by what had happened and even a month later some service users were still anxious when returning to the centre, worried that the people responsible for the damage may have returned.”

Sunderland Youth Offending Service is part of children’s services and is managed by Together for Children.

Victim Workers from the Youth Offending Service contact all victims of offences to offer their support and to explore restorative options, which see offenders making amends for theiroffending. This can vary from a letter of apology, to a face to face meeting or doing work in the community to benefit victims.

Sue Gardham, Senior Practitioner, within Sunderland Youth Offending Service said: “In this case, Gary and Deb believed reparation was a way for the young people to make amends, but also to build community spirt.

“They hoped in turn the young people would realise the impact of the offence and feel included in the Sunderland Home Grown community and would want to return on a voluntary basis in the future.”

In the weeks and months that followed, although one young person had moved out of the area and offered a verbal apology, the other two young people agreed to undertake 12 hours of direct reparation each, completing voluntary work within the project.

The young people completed many tasks including potting plants and making wreaths and helping with spring preparations.

Whilst the young people were undertaking the work at the project Gary and Deb talked to them about the people who use the facility, the amount of damage caused and the impact it had.

Sue said: “It was evident that the young people had not thought about the true impact of their offence. However, following their reparation work, victims praised the young people for returning to the facility and facing up to what they had done.  The young people went from being initially nervous about completing the work to enjoying the tasks and learning from the experience.”

“Gary and Deb expressed satisfaction in the efforts of the young people and that by helping them to understand the effects of their behaviour, it would help deter them from such behaviour in the future.”

Restorative justice has been a key factor in UK youth justice since around 2002 and in Sunderland community projects have been undertaken across the city. And in recent years there has been a significant reduction in the percentage of youth reoffending.

To find out more about the Flower Mill please visit  and for more information on Sunderland Youth Offending Service please visit