Balmoral Show: From behind baahs, young inmates show off their sheep rearing skills
Among the many exhibitors proudly displaying their livestock at the Balmoral Show yesterday in hope of a coveted ribbon were a rather unlikely group.
Young inmates from Hydebank showed sheep they have been learning to care for as part of a rehabilitation project aimed at teaching skills to help reduce reoffending. The two Border Leicester ewes and their three lambs are being used by the Prison Service to teach livestock and husbandry skills to the inmates, creating employment opportunities for when they return to the community.
Ricky Graham, vocational training officer at Hydebank, who is also a part-time sheep farmer, said: "The sheep were introduced into Hydebank in September last year. When the students learn basic livestock and husbandry skills, they are tasked to look after the sheep.
"On a daily basis they would feed them, ensure they had water, check their welfare and move them to new paddocks if they needed to. They've even been involved in building pens for the sheep.
"The breeding was a natural progression. The ewes were covered by two rams in October, and in March this year they produced three lambs - much to the delight of the students and staff alike. Showing them at Balmoral has been just a fantastic experience and probably the highlight of the whole project."
Hydebank Wood College governor David Eagleson said: "This has been a hugely successful project which has helped build great self-esteem among the students and we hope as they prepare for a return to the community, it will also steer them away from a life of crime, into meaningful employment and perhaps a better future. Rehabilitation and resettlement are to the forefront of the Prison Service work. By giving those who come into our care opportunities such as this we are helping reduce reoffending and making Northern Ireland a much safer place."
On Tuesday three prisoners from Hydebank Wood College and Women's Prison were among two singing groups who serenaded Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall with Jailhouse Rock on their visit to Dromore.
They were performing as part of the Voice of Release singing group, which works in conjunction with health service staff to boost the mental health of inmates at the jail.