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Image by Simon Kadula
Image by Eric Barrett

RVBKA's Educational Program is having a profound affect on inmates at HMP Magilligan

In 2015, the first tentative steps were taken to introduce the craft of bee-keeping in Magilligan prison.

There is a hive of activity at HMP Magilligan

A sizable number of prisoners were involved in maintaining the grounds and gardens of the prison estate, but would they be interested in working with honey bees? This was a question brought to David McIntyre, RVBKA's club President.

The club and prison administration were both keen for the project to go ahead and when introduced, the activity attracted a small but enthusiastic group, who went on to complete the Preliminary Beekeeping course, over several months and gain their certificates. The course consists of 8 class-room lectures, three practical sessions working with bees and the multiple choice and practical exams.

From this point on, interest and participation has gone from strength to strength - five groups have now attained their certificates.

A high proportion of prisoners have had a poor educational outcome and some required considerable help with studying for the exam.  For many of the men, this certificate would be the first academic qualification they have attained. In 2022, the class at the prison saw a 100% pass rate, some with very high marks.

Whilst this accreditation is important to the men, the role that beekeeping has had in promoting prisoner well-being and contributing to improved mental health is invaluable.  As in any prison environment, depression, self-harm and mental illness have all been pervasive issues, however, caring for the bees has had a profound effect on men, who previously did not engage with anyone.

The opportunity to learn new skills has given prisoners an activity to look forward to, has provided a positive focus, reduced stress, and as one prisoner commented is "good for the head".

That HMP Magilligan and the prisoners have benefited from the introduction of beekeeping activities and the educational class is thanks to Roe Valley Beekeepers Association, and in particular to David McIntyre, who has championed the programme and teaches the class.

Few people know what life is like behind the prison walls, so the involvement of a local group is an important way to bring the community and thr prisoners working towards rehabilitation closer together.

At the 2019 RVBKA Honey Show, HMP Magilligan won first prize in the category H1: 6 jars of honey.

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