Can pigeons help to turn young lives around?
Paul Hemmings, an officer at HM Young Offenders Institution Wetherby in Yorkshire, works with 15-18 year olds, sharing his hobby of racing pigeons with them. He gets much pleasure and reward through giving these young people a sense of personal pride and self-respect.
When Paul first relocated from Leeds to Wetherby, he moved some pigeons into the prison grounds and was amazed at how much this changed the boys’ lives. They gained self-confidence from looking after the pigeons, and have since joined a local pigeon club under their own club’s name, HMYOI Wetherby RPC, and are members of the RPRA.
Paul even secured sponsorship which enabled him to purchase a loft. Petron Lofts have been very helpful to the project, and the young club members are looking forward to getting young birds in the loft.
When the loft is stocked with young birds, each boy will have his own, and he will be responsible for their care and well-being on a daily basis. Paul has a very large class of boys and we are sure that there will be a lot of competition between them when they start racing.
One of the young members wrote: “Since Mr Hemmings brought us some pigeons to look after we set about sorting the nest boxes out and tried to settle the birds to a new loft to breed our young birds. We have two males who just constantly fight and have broken their eggs through both wanting the same nest box. Steps have been taken to try and eradicate this by locking the pairs in their separate boxes until they have settled into their new loft.
I had no idea what was involved in keeping pigeons. I had only ever seen them in the streets and did not know that there were so many different coloured ones or that people kept and raced them. After watching Marathon in the Sky by Jim Jenner I am now starting to understand what pigeon racing is all about and cannot wait for my young pigeon to compete in the races. When the hen laid her eggs I would check them every day until they hatched and am delighted I put the rings on the young ones having never done this or touched a baby pigeon and my hands would not stop shaking. I still check the young birds every day to make sure my rings have not come off.
Every day I clean and feed the pigeons and have now started to place little pots in the next box where the young pigeons can watch their parents feed before they feed the baby so they are gaining knowledge of where they can find food for when they come out the nest pan to stretch their legs. I want to wish everybody success in this coming season.”
Above right is a sketch made by one of the young Wetherby YOI members.