Restorations - Child crime prevention charity In2Change revamps historic Rutland Hall in Sheffield

Anyone who has worked in prisons for 10 years will have a few stories to tell.

Saturday, 23rd October 2021, 9:58 am

If they’ve set up a crime prevention charity for wayward kids they’ll have a few more.

And if they’ve taken on a wreck of a building that was home to 40 squatters and turned it into a modern centre for that work – and done it on donations and generosity and a lot of graft - then you’ll have Brian Wreakes, founder of In2Change based in historic Rutland Hall on Hicks Street, Neepsend.

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Historic Rutland Hall on Hicks Street, in Neepsend, Sheffield, which is home to the charity In2Change

Not one to pontificate about the positive impact of his work, Brian prefers the anecdote.

“People said we were crazy to take on this place. When we moved in we found 5,000 needles, it took us months to pick them all up,” he said.

GENEROUS DONATIONS

“Howdens donated a kitchen with no instructions. Luckily we had a fitter sent on community service. He’d got 200 hours for drink driving, it was perfect for us.”

Jack Athey, deputy manager, Brian Wreakes, and alternative provision co-ordinators, Sophie Beverley and Enrika Jonaviciute

“Hillfoot Recycling has helped us a lot. My office overlooks the yard and when I see something come in I’ll go and ask for it. We’ve had about 30 items including a front door and a window with the glass intact.”

“After a school visit, three kids handed knives to their teacher the next day saying ‘we don’t want them any more’.”

“We won an award in London but we didn’t have enough money to go.”

The charity runs programmes for children aged 10 to 16 who are at ‘high risk of criminality’. They are sent by schools, pupil referral units and youth offending teams, who pay for the service.

Dr Helen Wilson, Sheffield doctor and magistrate. The Helen Wilson Settlement was founded in 1896, moving to Rutland Hall, Hicks Street in 1906. It promoted cultural, recreational and educational activities and place a strong emphasis on temperance. Pic courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

It has 10 staff, including experts in psychology and criminology, who devise courses that aim to connect with kids - gone are the days of trying to ‘scare them straight’.

Central to that are the ex-offenders with ‘lived experience’ who talk about how awful prison really is.

And then there is role play. The centre has a mock courtroom, prison cell, ‘High Street’ with cash machine, lounge, ‘park’, hospital room, and, soon, a police station and pub. It’s just about everything you need to act out a scene that involves a crime relevant to children, from domestic abuse to street robbery to drink driving.

In2Change founder Brian Wreakes with the centre's reproduction prison cell.

The aim is to make them think about the consequences to them, their family and victims.

But just the faithfully-reproduced prison cell, with bunk beds crammed in next to a toilet without a seat, will be off-putting enough for some.

Brian said: “Kids think prison is easy time, it’s not. We give them an opportunity to speak up, they’re willing to share with people they don’t see as in authority.

“They can ask questions about the things they are going through like gangs or county lines.

“We aim to teach them respect for authority and the law - like it’s the law you have to go to school - but it’s not just what we say, it’s the way we say it.”

Deputy manager Jack Athey in the mock courtroom at In2Change, Neepsend.

SOCIAL PURITY CAMPAIGNER

It is very likely the charity would have met with the approval of Dr Helen Wilson, a Sheffield doctor and magistrate whose community organisation occupied the building for more than 60 years.

The Helen Wilson Settlement, founded in 1896, promoted cultural, recreational and educational activities and placed a strong emphasis on temperance.

Dr Wilson funded the construction of Rutland Hall in 1906 to serve families living in slums that used to dominate the area.

The venue provided activities for all ages and genders including reading, keeping fit, an operatic society and essential services such as a ‘poor man’s lawyer’.

It is reported that it was ‘always lively and often had entertainment, such as piano recitals, as well as holding lectures’.

Brian said he thought Dr Wilson would approve of In2Change in Rutland Hall ‘because we have updated what she was doing here’.

Helen Mary Wilson was born in Mansfield in 1864 and educated at Sheffield High School for Girls, Bedford College London and the London School of Medicine for Women.

She became house surgeon to the London Temperance Hospital in 1892 and then entered private practice in Sheffield where she worked from 1893 to 1906.

In addition to her medical career, she carried on the work of her father, Holmfirth MP Henry J Wilson (1833-1914), who campaigned against the state regulation of prostitution.

She was honorary secretary and president of the Association for Moral & Social Hygiene and president of the Sheffield Women's Suffrage Society.

Her other voluntary activities included settlement and probation work and serving as a magistrate. She died in 1951 and is remembered as a ‘social purity campaigner and physician’.

Rutland Hall remained open during both world wars. In aid of the war effort, women would sew clothes for the children's hospital and soldiers.

The men's club was used as an air raid shelter, the building also hosted a municipal kitchen for people bombed out of their homes.

In 1947, the railway embankment behind the hall collapsed, causing severe damage. However, after ‘strenuous’ fundraising efforts, restoration took place and activities continued.

THREE YEARS TO REVAMP BUILDING

The Helen Wilson Settlement closed in the early 1970's due to population change. The hall was occupied by a printing business from 1986 until 1993 and squatters for 10 years until 2016, when Brian did a deal with owner William Hague of Hague Plant.

In2Change could have it rent free on condition they refurbish it and buy it after three years.

The first condition was achieved through eight-strong teams of ex-offenders on community service working seven days a week, organised by Michael Johnson of South Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation.

The second condition was achieved in 2019, when The Hedley Foundation put up the money to buy the building - plus £150,000 to finish refurbishment including central heating, electrics and a fire alarm.

Today, the hall boasts a beauty salon, recording studio and gym, for ‘follow-on’ activities. A sandwich shop is opening soon.

And Brian, aged 64, is thinking about retirement.

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