Last week I visited the Lodge Hill Centre near Pulborough. As its name implies, the building is perched on a hill 160 feet above sea level, with stunning views across the Arun Valley.
More than 28,000 children and adults from local schools and community groups visit each year to make use of the Centre's marvellous facilities on 30 acres, which include a range of outdoor activities, including rope climbing, archery and camping.
Run by the Lodge Hill Trust, the Centre has been a great success. But as the Chief Executive Paul McNeill explained to me, it was threatened with closure just a few years ago and was only saved thanks to the hard work and determination of local volunteers who set up a Trust to take it over. Since then the facilities have steadily been improved, and there's now a fine new conference hall.
I was shown around by Nick Turner, the Activities Manager, who is one of those no-nonsense instructors who I felt would make a superb Whip in the House of Commons!
I was particularly impressed by the Lodge Hill Challenge, a programme which can help to give young people some purpose in life and get them back on the straight and narrow. I was struck by what good value for money this scheme provides.
The Lodge Hill Trust is struggling to raise just £26,000 a year for the Challenge, yet the National Audit Office has recently censured the Government for wasting over £40 million on a poorly managed IT scheme for offenders.
I'm an advocate of tough penalties for law breakers, but we also need to find ways to divert young people who may commit offences from slipping into a life of crime. Instead of giving more support to cost-effective programmes like the Lodge Hill Challenge, run by the third sector, our society is dealing with the consequences of young offenders who get into the criminal justice system and end up costing the taxpayer a great deal more.