Stirling chocolate project aims to keep women out of prison

Scots women who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law are turning their lives around by making luxury handmade chocolates.

A team of Positive Changes volunteers working with women one day a week over 12 months made 19,000 Grace Chocolates truffles.

A pioneering new project based in a church near Stirling aims to boost their self-esteem and confidence and eventually find work.

Joyce Murray, founder of community interest company Positive Changes which makes Grace Chocolates, said 20 women have engaged with the seven-week programme.

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The women are awarded certificates and qualifications through courses and training. One of them, Mary, said making chocolates had changed her “whole world” for the better.

“I used to be a drug user and I kept getting the jail all the time,” she said. “I was put on a court order and got involved with Positive Changes.”

Over a 12-month period, a team of up to six volunteers working with women one day a week made around 19,000 white, milk and dark chocolate truffles. The flavours include banoffee, coffee and cardamom and lemon and ginger.

“I am trying as hard as I can to not to go back to my old life,” said Mary.

Another woman on the project, Angela, said volunteering at Grace Chocolates had given her a “new purpose”.

“I have learned how to be normal again,” she said. “It is such a great programme and the training and experience is helping to get me ready to move into the workplace.

“It has given me back my self-esteem, self-confidence and has been a great foundation from which to rebuild my life. It has given me belief in myself again.”

Murray said she became interested in helping people turn their lives around after she started volunteering at the family hub at HMP Cornton Vale women’s prison near Stirling which opened in 2013.

“The aim of Positive Changes is to support any woman who has touched the Scottish criminal justice system towards fulfilling employment,” she said. “We tailor the support to meet their individual needs, offering work experience, qualifications and a range of support from partnership agencies.

“It costs taxpayers £65,000 to put a woman in prison and a further £45,000 each year she remains and that is before taking into account the cost in financial and human terms to the women’s family, children, society and those directly affected by crime.

Rev Dan Harper, a Church of Scotland minister in the Presbytery of Stirling, backed the scheme. “Positive Changes is freeing the ladies to allow them to grow to be the people that God made – wonderful, worthwhile people capable of love, compassion and hope.”