Michael Jeffries, an unemployed man from Manchester, is due next week to complete 200 hours of community service, canal clearing and removing graffiti from a local hospital wall. His offence: punching a neighbour in the face, after a long standing parking feud. Michael will administer the punch to his surprised neighbour next week.
Jeffries is one of a small number taking part in a pilot scheme in Greater Manchester. Others are repainting poorly maintained children’s playgrounds and peeling potatoes in overstretched care homes, all the while planning criminal damage, minor theft, and other disorderly conduct.
‘For too long, people have built up massive debts to society, then struggled to clear those debts, said chief probation officer Nigel Krane. ‘It’s time we encouraged people to save up community credit, then commit senseless crimes within their means.’
Not all those taking part have such high ambitions. 19 year old Mick Knowles from Stockport is looking forward to a smashing a shop window after a bargain 20 hours repairing road signs: ‘My probation officer has said if I just do another five hours I’ll have enough to urinate in the street as well, which is a bonus.’
However, those who already volunteer in the community purely for the common good have had mixed reactions to the scheme. Olive Barnes, chair of the Volunteers Centre in neighbouring Cheshire sees it as an opportunity though. ‘People like me have thousands hours of community service clocked up. The possibilities are endless. I know of one church group that has started a cannabis farm, putting the proceeds into a bird sanctuary. And Cheshire East Rotary club has pooled its members’ community service hours to open a small brothel in Alderley Edge in time for Hallowe’en, with a special ‘trick or treat’ night.