Wednesday Webinar: Music in Prisons

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28 January 2021

19. 1TT Music in Prisons 1 Lizzie Coombes scaled

Showing someone that within a week long period you can learn a new skills and reach such a high standard gives people the idea that ‘maybe I can achieve something else’ – Participant in one of Irene Taylor Trust’s programmes

Sara Lee, Artistic Director of the Irene Taylor Trust (ITT), joined us at our last webinar of 2020 to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Sara talked about her work making music collaboratively with prisoners and former prisoners.

Watch ITT’s 25th Birthday Celebration show here

Twenty five years ago the Trust started delivering week-long music projects in prisons. Before long they were training musicians in residence worked on musical performances for family days and other events. Meanwhile, ITT continued to deliver projects in prisons which bring music to people who hadn’t engaged before. These projects teach new skills and end with events where partipcants can invite loved ones into the prison to see the performances.

Striking a chord with prisoners and their families

Watch Sara Lee talk about music in prisons Disappointed with the colourless, photocopied sheets presented to young people on their first nights in prison, ITT saw an opportunity to make a real difference to people arriving in prison, and began creating their own packs. They worked with young people to produce resources for other young people, creating first night packs filled with photographs, art and song-writing materials.

One ITT project, run in Werrington works with young people and their families.  Participants produce spoken word pieces and songs, creating honest testimonies of what imprisonment has meant for them and what they have lost.

Sara said:

The young people provided really personal accounts… of how they had used the experience to make a positive change in their lives and look towards the future.

The Lullaby Project  supports parents to write and perform music for their children to listen to whilst they are in prison, working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to use music and creativity to bring families together.

ITT’s work crosses borders, adapting and developing specific projects for different countries. In the US, ITT has worked with parents to write songs for children who have died from gun crime, attempting to play a part in helping families to work through their grief.

Lasting memories

Sara and her team love the process of creating music with people in prison, but always ensure something tangible is created too. Having a product and something physical to keep means participants can share their creation with their families and friends and remember what they are able to achieve.

Sara said:

When you work with people on an ongoing basis you can really see how key these kinds of activities and the relationships they build with us and the work actually are. It really keeps people motivated and engaged and moving forward during what are often very difficult times.

A good track record – working with people post-release

Sounding Out is an 18-month to two-year part time programme offering work placements, training programmes and meet up and play sessions to people who have been released from prison. Participants are paid and trained to become co-facilitators to lead workshops, share stories and show others what’s possible. The programme helps participants to develop musical skills but also builds confidence, provides pastoral care and signposts to other opportunities.

Through the workshops and talks delivered to young people by former prisoners as part of Sounding Out, “Young people get to see that in the face of adversity there’s something they can aspire to.”

Amazingly, during Covid, the Trust have still been able to support prisoners to write songs through letters and Email A Prisoner. This has been made possible by their positive relationships with prison staff, who have gone the extra mile to support the project.

If the Trust can continue to thrive amidst the challenges of Covid, the future seems bright for music in prisons. We’re excited to follow Irene Taylor Trust’s projects and work over the next 25 years and hear more stories about how they’re using music to change lives.

Listen to our recording of the event here

This event was held as part of our Wednesday Webinar series. Find out about upcoming events here.

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