A SCHEME has been launched aimed at training serving and former prisoners at HMP Berwyn to drive heavy goods vehicles and secure a job.

The Road Ahead Driving Lives social enterprise programme was the brainchild of two serving inmates at the Wrexham prison back in 2017.

Now a total of 15 men, who have served time in HMP Berwyn, are on their way to being fully qualified freight drivers which will hopefully lead to full-time employment.

Ultimately, the project will be expanded to include other marginalised members of society, such as military veterans and the long-term unemployed.

It will also cover a wider area including HMP Thorn Cross in Warrington – where one of the programme founders was transferred to – HMP Kirkham in Preston and Liverpool City.

Organisers hope to train hundreds of people each year.

The UK is said to have a critical shortage of qualified professional drivers with the Freight Transport Association estimating the current shortfall to be around 60,000.

But qualified drivers can earn around £35,000 a year within an industry that is reportedly keen to attract a diverse range of drivers with a range of backgrounds.

It has been a long journey for the programme, which officially started on September 30, and involved input and support from a range of organisations.

These include the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) New Futures Network, the DVSA, and various ministers and MPs.

The programme is said to be unique as it involves peer-to-peer support by qualified prisoners and allows learners to obtain qualifications including warehousing and storage, safer driving skills and customer service on top of their DVSA Category C heavy good vehicle driving licence.

Organisers say that many local employers have already recorded their interest in employing the successful candidates.

Rachel Willoughby, operations director with Inside Connections and the Road Ahead programme, said: “We have a long way to go and will evaluate our impact at each stage. But I believe that the Road Ahead has the potential to provide positive outcomes for those undertaking the training, for governors, business, the community and the public purse.

“We will play our part in helping alleviate reoffending and the critical shortage of professional HGV drivers the UK. The government’s figures show that individuals in full time P45 employment on release from custody are significantly less likely to reoffend.

“This in turn can assist in alleviating the cost of reoffending as well as the costs of long-term unemployment. But what is fantastic is that this amazing project started in HMP Berwyn, a closed category C prisoner that was always intended to support and prepare men on their rehabilitative journeys in advance of release.