The needs that choirs address in prisons
- Blinded By Your Grace - Feathertones
- KCN - Unchained Harmony
- Bring Me Little Water - The Jammers
- Human - Inside Out
- Kings Highway (Original) - Feathertones
- Consider Yourself - Harmony on the Hill
- Awaken (Original) - Feathertones
- Story Teller - Unchained Harmony
- All Of Me - Inside Out
- Stronger (Original) - Feathertones
- Fields Of Gold - The Jammers
- Run - HMP Durham
- Closer (Original) - The Jammers
Poor mental health:
There were 54,000 reported incidents of self-harm in 2019 in English prisons. 50% of prisoners suffer depression and/or
anxiety. Levels of suicide in prison are at an all-time high, accounting for 90 deaths in the year to September 2019. Group singing significantly improves mental health.
Of people serving sentences, 25% have been in care, 41% excluded from school, 15% have psychosis, 15% are homeless,
add in poverty and addiction – many feel they have never belonged to society. Choirs are positive, socially inclusive groups.
Inadequate “purposeful” activity:
Work, education and other activities are known to aid rehabilitation. Only 34% of prisons received a positive rating for
their provision of purposeful activity from Inspectors in 2018-19 (a decline from half in 2016-17). We provide hundreds of hours of purposeful activity for the prisons we work with.
Poor work prospects:
Having work halves reoffending rates. In the year to March 2019, Government figures show only 11% of released prisoners are in
PAYE employment within 6 weeks of release. This rises to just 17% after 12 months. Through choir and performing people develop the “soft skills” employers need.
There are c.320,000 children in the UK with a parent in prison. Visits can be challenging and difficult to organise. Our family days
create quality time and happy memories.
How Choirs Beating Time works
We have also broadcast and recorded for National Prison Radio during lockdown, something we hope to continue!
What Choirs Beating Time achieves:
FOR OUR SINGERS
Improved Mental Health
Singers experience improved mental health and wellbeing, greater confidence and a positive community. They develop crucial life skills for the workplace. They meet people who believe in them. They get the opportunity to spend better quality time with their family.
FOR OUR PRISONS
A community asset
We give prisons hours of meaningful, purposeful activity. We create a community asset which they can use to augment celebrations and mark important events. We improve family visits. Choir is an effective mental health intervention and we create factors that reduce reoffending.
Positive family time
Imagine, instead of sitting on plastic chairs around a table that is screwed to the floor in a noisy prison visits hall, making costumes and instruments, performing from Lion King with your family. That’s what we do.
Koestler Arts run a national annual competition for arts in UK Prisons and Detention Centres. We aim to record each of our choirs (both covers of songs and original compositions) for submission each year. To date we have won 19 Koestler Awards, including a Platinum and several Golds.
The science behind “Singing” and “Choirs”
Singing is an effective mental health intervention
Singing significantly reduces the symptoms of depression and anxiety, partly because it increases our levels of “feel good” hormones, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin.
Simultaneously it suppresses our stress hormones, cortisol and cortisone, so we feel less stressed. Singing also reduces aggressive behaviour and improves self-esteem.
This is important in prisons where more than 50% of the population suffer depression and anxiety, self harm is common place and the prevalence of suicide is 4 times that in the general population.
Choir is a powerful way of building social inclusion
People who belong to choirs feel their choir is a more meaningful social group than any other group they belong to outside the family.
Choirs create social bonds seven times faster than other social activities and a strong sense of “belonging”.
This is important for people in prison where more than 25% have been in care, 41% have been excluded from school and most have experienced unemployment poverty and/or addiction.
Practice and Performance builds social skills and confidence. Time can weigh heavy or be used. By practising together every week of the year, relationships and skill develop in tandem. We all commit to coming, to working together and to improving. We focus. We aspire. We learn from each other and by persevering. Performances challenges us and instil confidence. When we perform we rise to the occasion and hear applause. That is motivating and gives us hope.
Free Spiritz/ Choirs Beating Time in the community
After being contacted by several singers to say how much they missed singing with us post release, we set up a group “on the out” called “Free Spiritz”. It meets regularly to practise and is planning a post lockdown tour! Free Spiritz is also the pivot around which we are building a community presence for Inside Job and UpStart.
How Choirs Beating Time reduces reoffending
We know what to do to stop the cycle of reoffending because the Ministry of Justice has done the research. There are 7 factors…
Three are obvious, external and tangible: housing, family and work. In other words, somewhere to live, someone to love and something to do…
Four are internal and intangible – but every bit as important: having hope and being motivated to change, knowing other people believe in you, being given the opportunity to contribute and having an identity not based on criminality. In other words, I know who I am, that I can, that you believe I can and that you’ll let me try…
Beating Time hits these four factors hard.
Choirs Beating Time enables prisoners to hang onto their mental health and be a recognisable version of themselves. All our programmes reinforce non-criminal identity, whether as singers, songwriters, performers, entrepreneurs, workers or parents. The people we work with know we believe in them, because we invest in them creatively, emotionally, and financially. We create the opportunity for them to contribute, on lots of levels: to their prison community as performers, to their families at our Family Days, to the workforce, through Inside Job and as Entrepreneurs, through UpStart. By retaining a sense of self and creating opportunities we generate hope and motivation.