Lately I've been working with Helix Arts (Newcastle) and Nepacs (North East Prisoner Family Support, Durham) to create Hidden Voices, an arts-based education programme designed specifically for men in prison to help them reconnect with their children and families.
It's been a huge challenge. Workshops with children and prisoners, desk research, consulting with criminal justice professionals, then going into isolation in my wee study to think, and think, and think....and then write a full modular programme complete with worksheets, guidance notes for facilitators and over twenty activities (now beautifully designed and illustrated by Sally Pilkington/Morph Creative) - all based on songs written and recorded by prisoners' children in collaboration with musicians Will Lang and Beccy Owen. It's not quite hot off the presses, it's being prepared for print and packaging as I write. But it's been used already in test form with very positive results.
Hidden Voices was unveiled a few weeks ago in Durham at Nepacs' annual conference. Dr. Alison Frater, Chair of the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (NCJAA) steering group, addressed the gathering and later wrote a wonderful blog on their website that put everything into perspective. Her words made me keenly aware of why so many of us in the arts put our hearts and souls into work with people in all kinds of communities.
"Arts enable people to experience creativity in a way that transforms lives; even a single performance can change your life forever. At a conference organised by North East Prisoner Family Support (NEPACS), an organisation that seeks to enable positive futures for prisoners and their families in the north east of England by providing practical and emotional support, I heard how ‘Hidden Voices’, a project developed by NEPACS with Helix Arts, uses arts to connect children and families with fathers in prisons – with extraordinary results......."