Handmade chocolates are giving female offenders in Scotland a second chance at life

(Photo: Grace Chocolates)

Women who have fallen foul of the law in Scotland are being given a new lease of life by learning how to make luxury chocolates.

There are 20 women on the seven-week programme run by Positive Changes, a community interest company that makes Grace Chocolates from a Church of Scotland hall near Stirling. 

Joyce Murray, founder of Positive Changes, started up the chocolate-making programme after seeing firsthand the impact of offending while serving as a volunteer at the family hub in nearby HMP Cornton Vale. 

For her, making chocolates is not only a way of breaking the cycle of re-offending; it is a way of keeping families together and improving the wellbeing of the entire community.

"The aim of Positive Changes is to support any woman who has touched the Scottish criminal justice system towards fulfilling employment," she explained.

"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.

"Breaking the cycle of re-offending is good for the public purse, communities and society."

Together with a team of six volunteers, the women make white, milk and dark chocolate truffles by hand in a range of different flavours, like banoffee, coffee and cardamom, and lemon and ginger.

At the end of the course, they receive a certificate and qualification.

One trainee, Mary, said that making chocolates had changed her "whole world" for the better by boosting her self-esteem and bringing structure to her life.

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

"It is a lot more than just a chocolate making company and words cannot easily describe how my life has been turned round 360 degrees.

"When I first started the course I was dead quiet and withdrawn. But my self-esteem and self-confidence is now sky high by comparison.  It has given me structure in my life, I love every minute of it and cannot wait to get up in the morning and go to work.

"It is such a brilliant place to be and Joyce is so supportive and encouraging."

She added: "I am trying as hard as I can to not to go back to my old life."

Another participant, called Angela, said she was looking forward to being a good mother and part of the workforce again.

"I have learned how to be normal again," she said, adding that she wanted to "just start living again". 

"It is such a great programme and the training and experience is helping to get me ready to move into the workplace," she said. 

"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."

The chocolates are available online and at select outlets including the Scottish Parliament shop.