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In the second in a series of posts celebrating the Science and Industry Museum's 50th anniversary, Simon Tatton-Brown, a probation officer in Manchester during the 1970s, tells us how an offender under his supervision helped bring one of our looms back to life.

“Here was someone who had been excluded from society.”

I was part of the team in Manchester in 1977 when community service by offenders first became part of the law in Britain. It wasn’t supposed to be punitive—it was meant to give something back to the community.

I had met Richard at a University alumni dinner—I didn’t know him well as we didn’t study together but he always came across as a very kind, thoughtful person who really cared for other people.

I can remember that on a visit to the museum he said to me ‘we’ve got this loom’—it had been rescued very recently from one of the mills and it was in a pretty bad state. I had the offender with me—I knew he had experience with looms from working with the looms in Manchester prison, and he said: ‘I can fix that.’

Richard was delighted because he had been wondering how to get it fixed and here was a solution that would benefit the offender and the museum.

Here was someone who had been excluded from society because of his actions being given an opportunity to make a real contribution to society. I don’t think anyone else at the museum knew who he was—I’m sure Richard would have taken great care to protect his confidentiality. It may well be that Richard was the only person who knew.

Community service was new and as a team back then we were still feeling our way but it was satisfying to get a good placement for someone—it felt like time well spent. Although you don’t always know what the long-term outcome is, looking back I hope it did have a good outcome. He did mention to me that he might like to volunteer at the museum once his community service was completed so who knows—maybe he stayed!

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