A PROGRAMME of community work carried out by inmates at Leyhill open prison is about to be stopped, bringing a valued service to cash-strapped organisations to an end.

For years, prisoners have taken on useful jobs, such as painting and decorating village halls, as part of their rehabilitation.

It has not only helped the men develop new skills but also provided affordable labour for local groups and organisations.

But the working parties are set to be scrapped, with some planned tasks now unlikely to be completed.

Falfield, near Thornbury – just down the road from the prison – is one community to have benefited from the programme, known as Through the Gate.

It has been well supported in particular by the management committee of the village hall and only recently, a team was called in to decorate the premises both inside and out.

Rosie Murton, a member of the committee and its treasurer, said she only found out about the discontinuation of Through the Gate while the working party were at the hall doing the work.

She said: “The team is supervised to undertake a variety of vital maintenance work in the community – in churches, schools, village halls and sports clubs – at a very reasonable cost. It’s £125 a day, regardless of the number of prisoners in the team, and we use a grant to pay for it.

“The working party has been in existence for seven years and never been without work. It has a full order book now and these works will have to be cancelled.

“I have written a letter to our MP Steve Webb to see if he will take up the matter urgently as the team might be gone in a few weeks.

“It all helped the prison to keep good links with the community so it seems crazy to stop it.”

Other projects carried out in Falfield by the prisoners include tidying up the village war memorial and a bus stop. Neighbouring Stone village has also had its village hall decorated as part of the scheme.

Mr Webb, the Liberal Democrat MP for Thornbury and Yate, has pledged to take up the matter with the prison governor.

He said teams of Leyhill prisoners carrying out work in the community had been a feature of the local area for many years and he would be concerned if it stopped, especially if that happened imminently.

He said: “I will be contacting the governor with a view to having a meeting.

“One of the things about an open prison is the links it has with the community. There is a particular need for a good working relationship with a prison and I will give a gentle reminder of that importance.”

A Prison Service spokesman said: "Due to restructuring of work opportunities, HMP Leyhill is no longer able to support some community projects."

Leyhill had previously earned praise from prison inspectors for its effective risk management which allowed an “impressively large number of prisoners” to take part in the Through the Gate programme.

After an inspection two years ago, a report said inmates benefited from good and productive links with some 30 community groups, as well as with a similar number of employers.