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Justice Secretary praises councilís new community service project


A new project designed to utilise teams of low level offenders to fix fallen cemetery headstones was launched in Aberdeen today.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill visited Trinity Cemetry in Aberdeen to see the work carried out by low level offenders working on Community payback Orders to clean up the cemetry.Kenny MacAskill pictured with some of the offenders. PHOTO-ABERDEEN JOURN Under the initiative, gravestones will be repaired and fallen headstones will be returned to their original upright positions in a major clean-up operation by offenders who are being sent out to repay their debt to the community.

The Community Payback Project will take place at Trinity Cemetery after members of the local community contacted Councillor Richard Robertson, who represents Tillydrone, Old Aberdeen and Seaton, raising concerns about the state of disrepair of some of the gravestones.

Officers from Aberdeen City Council's Criminal Justice Social Work and Environmental Services teams took Cllr Robertson's case forward and secured £45,699 for the gravestone project as part of almost £500,000 of Scottish Government funding for Community Payback Projects.

The work will begin in earnest this summer but Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill visited Trinity Cemetery today to meet with workers carrying out Community Payback Orders in the city.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "Cemeteries should be a place of quiet reflection, a place to pay your respects and to remember loved ones lost.

"Unfortunately, the scene at many cemeteries is one of fallen and broken headstones. That is unacceptable. It's a bugbear of many communities up and down the country, and this project will see action being taken to rectify it.

"The council and church workers do their best, but finding the resources and labour required to carry out these repairs is often a real struggle for many.

"We want to get these low level offenders out doing some hard work, carrying out tough manual labour to repay their dues to the community they've harmed, whilst delivering improvements which the community will benefit."

Aberdeen City Council's Director of Social Care and Wellbeing Fred McBride said: "Our Criminal Justice Social Work team has been working hard with colleagues in Environmental Services to develop this exciting and important scheme within the local community, and they should be applauded for their efforts.

"There are a number of gravestones in need of repair and this is a fantastic initiative to get low level offenders out to work, improving their skills whilst helping to improve the local community. Not only will this project make a real difference to the burial ground but the offenders will also be paying back the local community in a positive and constructive way."

Convener for social care and wellbeing Councillor Jim Kiddie said: "Community Payback Orders being carried out in the city today are all doing something positive for communities across the city.

"This project benefits not only the community but those taking part. The graveyard project in Trinity Cemetery will see every worker receiving training and gaining a sense of achievement for a hard day's work whilst being recognised and commended for their efforts by the community they are living and working in."

Depute convener for Social Care and Wellbeing Cllr Richard Robertson said: "I'm delighted that this project is going ahead. I was first contacted by residents in my ward raising concerns about the state of some of the gravestones and when I brought it to the attention of our Environmental Services and Criminal Justice Social Work teams they quickly came together and targeted the funding for the graveyard project.

"I think members of the public will be delighted with this project and our officers deserve a huge degree of gratitude for their constructive development of the concerns raised by residents of the city."

Mr MacAskill added: "This is exactly the kind of initiative we want to see more of right across the country and Aberdeen City Council should be congratulated for their hard work and success establishing this project."

The project at Trinity Cemetery is expected to be carried out over several years. The headstones being repaired are those where the executors or owners cannot be traced. Council staff supervising the offenders will all be trained to the memorial industry standard. The work will involve making gravestones safe and carrying out restoration work to lift, replace and secure headstones back in their rightful, original positions.

Aberdeen City Council also secured £101,063 of Community Payback funding for sports projects, which will see low level offenders carrying out work to create outdoor sports centre boules pitches, repair and repainting of tennis courts, refurbishment of outdoor sports pavilions and the creating of rain and signage on municipal golf courses.