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Prison is ok in our back yard - village

PUBLISHED: 18:53 08 January 2008 | UPDATED: 09:50 08 July 2010

As plans to convert the former airbase at RAF Coltishall, near Norwich, into a jail have been given the green light, AURA SABADUS speaks to the residents of Griston to find out how neighbouring Wayland Prison - once the home of infamous inmates such as Jeffrey Archer and gangland killer Reggie Kray - affects their lives and properties.

As plans to convert the former airbase at RAF Coltishall, near Norwich, into a jail have been given the green light, AURA SABADUS speaks to the residents of Griston to find out how neighbouring Wayland Prison - once the home of infamous inmates such as Jeffrey Archer and gangland killer Reggie Kray - affects their lives and properties.

Nothing stirs in Griston on a frozen winter morning.

Turning off the busy A1075 Watton to Thetford road, the sound of traffic becomes muffled to a virtually undistinguishable hum, eventually dying out as the first farms in the village come in view.

It is easier for a traveller to be distracted by the joyful twinkle of Christmas lights adorning every other house than spot amidst the broody landscape the unbecoming sight of the red-brick Wayland Prison.

For 22 years, the building which accommodates mainly sex offenders but has also counted among its inmates the gangland killer Reggie Kray or disgraced peer Jeffrey Archer, has been the centrepiece of the mid Norfolk village.

When plans to convert the former airbase at RAF Watton into a jail were approved more than 20 years ago, residents feared the scheme would have a negative impact on their lives and properties.

Just like the residents of Coltishall who are now bracing themselves for a similar jail to be built on the former RAF base in their area, villagers in Griston feared the worst when Wayland Prison opened in 1985.

But 22 years on, they could not seem more oblivious of the units currently housing 750 prisoners.

“I have lived in Griston for 33 years and have never felt threatened by the prison,” said Rosemary Messent.

“The village is very quiet, we've never had any problems, no crime, no noise, no traffic. When the prison opened more than 20 years ago, prison officers moved in. We've also seen families with children moving in recently.”

Across the road, at the lower end of Blenheim Crescent, the Rev Ernie Wilks wends his way to his cottage overlooking the historical St Peter and St Paul Church towering over the village.

“Griston is a peaceful village. The prison doesn't bother us, really. There are other things that are more important to us, such as having good sewerage or getting a village hall. Hopefully from next year we'll also get a new cycle lane,” the former rector said.

Rev Wilks' house lies approximately one quarter of a mile from the back gate of the prison.

Although he admits he had concerns, he claims he never experienced any nuisance.

“I don't think house prices have been driven down as a result. There is a mix of affluent and former council houses each of different prices.”

Marie Garner seems knowledgeable about property prices in the area.

“There are around 30 houses in Griston which were built mainly for prison officers,” the cook who works for the Manor Court Day Centre in the village says. It has also created a lot of jobs, with police wardens working and living here.

“I bought one of them nine years ago for a reasonable price. I had it surveyed last week and it's estimated at around £160,000.

“There are some new executive properties up the road near the church which cost around £380,000.”

Overhearing the conversation, the centre's senior, Karen McDonnell adds: “I don't think the fact that the jail is right here on our doorstep has affected us in any way. Prices have gone up, rather than down and people feel safe.

“We have elderly people coming to our centre from other places. They wouldn't do so, if they didn't feel safes” she explains.

At the other end of Blenheim Crescent which abuts on the back gate of the Prison, Sadie Ison, has just returned home. Her house is one of the last properties on the estate.

“The only thing I would complain about is some noise when prisoners play football. Apart from that, you can hardly feel the presence of the prison. I've been here for nearly 10 years and haven't had a single problem.”

But as the prison, originally designed to house 450 inmates, is now set to expand to take in nearly 1,000 prisoners, estate agents Mullenger & Co in Watton say potential customers seem put off by the vicinity of the red-brick premises.

The jail which provides vocational training for inmates has a reputation for being run well. However, in the light of latest government targets, pre-fabricated cells for up to 300 extra prisoners are being moved into Wayland Prison in Norfolk.

“This year we only sold four properties in Griston,” said Alan Able, senior negotiator at Mullenger & Co.

“House prices are on average £5,000 to £10,000 less than in other areas. There are new properties which are very comfortable, but customers seem put off as soon as we mention the prison. They either cancel their appointments or simply prefer to look elsewhere.

“There has to be a change in attitude, because the village is a really peaceful, safe place to live,” he added.

A spokesman for Norfolk Police said: “Griston does not experience higher crime figures than surrounding villages and given that the establishment is a prison, the establishment itself does not present a policing problem. We enjoy good liaison with the Governor and his staff and cooperate to deal with any allegations within the prison as well as proactive operations to target the potential trafficking of drugs into prison. The village of Griston enjoys low crime levels as do all the surrounding Breckland villages.”

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