BIG READ: Young dad turns back on life of crime to become shipwright

Jack Betts, second from right, with partner Amie Phillips and their sons Joey, five, and Jack, 12
Jack Betts, second from right, with partner Amie Phillips and their sons Joey, five, and Jack, 12
Gill Steele with her son, Dylan, four, and Alexander, five, with husband Lee in a fire engine outside St John's Church, Gosport (171476-986)

Firefighters are the stars of the show at family fun day

Terry Burgess and his wife Maureen with four of their own five children and the two boys with Down's Syndrome they adopted. Left to right, back, Joseph, eight, Andrew, 16, Leigh, 14. Front, Christopher, two, Abigail, four, and Charlie, six

THIS WEEK IN 1990: Happy ending for abandoned boys with Down’s Syndrome

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From the age of 14, Jack Betts was mixing with a bad crowd and getting into trouble around the streets of Portsea.

At just 17 – when they were barely more than children themselves – Jack and his then-16-year-old girlfriend Amie Phillips became parents to Jack junior.

Despite his best efforts at fatherhood, Jack continued to get in trouble and drifted in and out of work, until two years ago when things got seriously bad.

Although by then the couple had a second son, Joey, now five, Jack was involved in a drink-fuelled fight which landed him in court.

Fortunately for him, he avoided prison. And it was the catalyst for turning his life around.

Jack, now 30, turned his back on crime and is working hard to support his family.

Thanks to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) he is training to be a shipwright in Portsmouth Dockyard – one of less than 50 working in the trade in the UK.

He says: ‘Probation was the best thing that happened to me, or I wouldn’t have a career. It has shown me that good things can come out of a bad situation.

‘I say to others that probation staff are here to help. Sharing a bit about myself and my interests led to this course.

‘It’s been the best thing that could have happened.

‘It will be nice because I’ve never had a stable job.’

Following the punch-up in 2015, Jack was given a 12-month suspended sentence and 180 hours of Community Payback.

When Jack’s case manager Julie Eden first met with him, she found out he was a skilled carpenter and saw that encouraging him to progress in that direction might help him engage with probation.

She discovered Jack’s family has a proud history of working on boats, and suggested he look at doing a course run by the International Boat Training College (IBTC) in Portsmouth.

He also attended the Thinking Skills Programme run by the CRC.

The programme covers positive thinking, taking in different perspectives and when to walk away from a negative situation.

‘The Thinking Skills Programme has made a big difference to me,’ Jack says. ‘I now step away from fights. My focus is my family and working hard, I’ve no time for getting into trouble.’

Amie, 32, says: ‘He’s always worked on-and-off. Having a kid when you are 17, he had to go and get a job.

‘Most people go to college but he never had that choice because he had to go to work and provide for his baby.

‘This is a good thing for him. When this opportunity came up, he had to take it.’

After successfully passing a four-day trial with IBTC Portsmouth, Jack was awarded a Heritage Lottery-funded bursary worth £18,000 to cover his course fees and started the five-day a week course last year.

However, after a few weeks, Jack found out he was unable to claim benefits, and as a father of two he needed to maintain an income while training.

With Julie’s help, Jack began training three days a week, so he could work as a carpenter on other days.

Amie says it’s been a tough journey.

‘It did affect us all as a family,’ she says.

‘Sometimes, when you aren’t in work it makes you a bit desperate. It’s a vicious circle.

‘This is an opportunity that not a lot of people get. There are 47 shipwright boatbuilders in the UK – and he’s one of them.

‘The college has really supported him and they have supported us as a family as well.

‘His family have always lived here so he’s got that heritage. It’s nice for him to go to college in the dockyard.

‘There are people who have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. ‘It’s nice for people like Jack who have been in trouble to get something out of it.

‘People do change their lives when they are given the opportunity to.’

Jack says the course came at the right time in his life.

‘I didn’t have anything coming in but then this happened,’ he says.

‘My eldest boy came down and he does some bits with me now.

‘If it goes well then he can come down and do his work experience there.

‘I’ve always been around boats. My uncle was a boat builder. It’s really nice to keep it going.’

Amie says she has been amazed by the turn-around.

‘It’s been life-changing for him,’ she says. ‘We will be able to go on family holidays every year because we will be able to afford it. A lot of benefits have come from this. This is about giving the kids the best childhood possible.

‘It will change our lives completely.’

WHAT IS COMMUNITY REHABILITATION?

When Jack Betts was sentenced for an alcohol-fuelled assault in 2015, he was ordered to undertake Community Payback – which used to be known as Community Service.

As part of that he was put in touch with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Rehabilitation Company.

The purpose of the organisation is to work with offenders to reduce re-offending – and to protect the community.

It is part of the Probation Service.

Following Jack’s court appearance he was put in touch with support worker, Julie.

She said: ‘I’m really proud of Jack. He’s shown great commitment to the course and is determined to work in the boat-building trade.

‘Not many people are able to make a career out of their passion, and it is my view that this is a life-changing experience, not only for Jack, but also for his family.

‘He persevered with the course despite a set-back.

‘He came up with a workable solution rather than give up.

‘Jack also enlisted help from his mother and brothers.

‘He’s showing a good deal of maturity and is a great role model for his sons.’

For more information go to hiowcrc.co.uk.