Violent offenders served up a new chance to make amends

By Reevel Alderson
Home affairs correspondent, BBC Scotland

image captionOffenders must be free from drugs and alcohol to get onto the 12-month training programme aimed at turning their lives around

Offenders with a violent history are to be offered a new chance to change their lives, following the success of an American-style training project.

The Street & Arrow food truck, in Glasgow's Partick, is to take on additional trainees by March 2017.

And it plans to expand operations across Scotland to address the social challenges of those with criminal convictions.

The scheme has received £208,000 of Scottish government funding.

The social enterprise company behind the project, Braveheart Industries (BHI), operates the airstream-style food truck providing training, mentoring and support for offenders who have made a commitment to change their lives away from violence and crime.

'Street & Arrow'

It is supported by Police Scotland's Violence Reduction Unit (VRU)

BHI trades under the banner of Street & Arrow in a play on the phrase "straight and narrow", which often describes the aim of people with convictions.

It is based on the successful Homeboy Industries Programme in Los Angeles, which has taken on more than 10,000 former gang members in an effort to make a positive change.

The BHI social enterprise model was initially targeted at deprived areas in Glasgow, but Insp Iain Murray of the VRU said it is hoped to expand the idea across Scotland.

"There is a need in many locations. We would like to see this throughout the country," he said.

"These are guys and girls who deserve a second chance. If we don't give them a second chance, the risk is they become a risk to everyone else.

"So it's important to offer them hope and opportunity.

"They are keen to show they want to make amends, to be productive members of society and the community, to demonstrate to their families and their kids that this is the way things should be."

image captionLeanne Bell is celebrating her "re-birthday" - a year of getting clean of drugs and alcohol

One of the trainees working on the food truck, Leanne Bell, 27, has a history of drug and alcohol dependency, and has served sentences in the women's prison, Cornton Vale.

She said she had now been clean for a year, and was happy that customers could see an ex-offender putting something back into the community.

"It's proof that you can change. Your life doesn't need to be chaotic and there is a way out," she said.

"I'm earning a proper wage, and I'm paying taxes now. I have a place of my own and I'm paying the council tax, so I am contributing to society."

image captionStreet food prepared by ex-offenders includes buttermilk fried chicken, Korean beef chilli and Asian BBQ-style ribs

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said it was important that members of the public being served at the food truck know that offenders taking part must be free from drugs or alcohol dependence.

"This is a very good example of individuals who are seeking to turn their lives around by trying to get themselves into employment and put something back into the community.

"It's a facility which is well valued in the local community, it's well used, and it's also producing a very high quality and high standard of food and drink.

"What's important here is equipping these individuals with the skills to be able to move into employment in the future, and we know in the catering industry there are opportunities to move into that industry."

BHI has operated with offenders at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo since 2012, and in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

It also works with prisoners in HMP Shotts, preparing them for a crime-free life on the outside.

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