17 April 2020
Lockdown has presented huge challenges for prisons but many individuals and organisations working in the prison system are using their creativity and talents to try to ease the pressure.
In this blog, we hear from Learning Together and Rowan Mackenzie about how they have adapted their work to the current circumstances. We hope that you will feel inspired to think about how you could adapt your normal partnership activities or any other educational resources you could offer.
Learning Together and Rowan have both created new resources which are available on the InCellActivityHub, a library of resources which is available for prison education departments and PEF providers to download and distribute. We are sharing the resources with HMP’s comms team so that they are available on their intranet. If you have any questions or would like to contribute any resources, please get in touch with Helena.
Ruth Armstrong and Amy Ludlow
Learning Together builds educational communities that bring together people who live, study and work in universities and criminal justice organisations. We are a Network of almost 50 universities and criminal justice organisations in the UK, with an ever-growing family of international collaborators. Together, through working in partnership, we aim to support positive transformations in our individual lives, public institutions and broader communities.
Even in this period of paused activity, we can still keep learning together from afar. We can continue to support each other in remaining hopeful, positive and engaged.
Covid-19 is a major challenge to everyone’s health, wellbeing, and connectedness. It is also a major challenge for our public institutions, including especially our prisons – everyone who lives and work in them, and everyone they are connected to beyond the prison walls. Within the Learning Together community, Covid-19 means that we cannot physically come together to learn with and from each other. But even in this period of paused activity, we can still keep learning together from afar. We can continue to support each other in remaining hopeful, positive and engaged.
With this in mind, members of the Learning Together Network have created ThinkLets – short educational resources to inspire learning and support continued positive connection within and beyond the Learning Together community. Each ThinkLet contains resources that help people to think about new ideas and develop new skills together, even from afar. Each week, for eight weeks, beginning 6 April 2020, two ThinkLets are being shared across all prisons in England and Wales through Learning and Skills Managers and the HMPPS intranet. Our ThinkLets are also tweeted, emailed to all Learning Together Network members, and shared as part of the Prisoner Learning Alliance’s #InCellActivityHub.
We are determined to harness and mobilise the talent of our community to do what we can to keep well, keep hopeful, keep connected, and keep learning with and from each other.
ThinkLets are freely available to anyone who wants to use this time of isolation to learn together. We want to make a positive difference in whatever contexts are helpful, so we are encouraging everyone to share ThinkLets widely, including beyond criminal justice institutions.
Over the next few weeks, our community will continue to explore further opportunities for educational partnership working in these new realities. Learning Together brings together resources and expertise from many leading universities around the world, as well as the insight, creativity and passion of a huge body of talented and committed students. We are determined to harness and mobilise the talent of our community to do what we can to keep well, keep hopeful, keep connected, and keep learning with and from each other. We are so grateful to everyone who is already supporting this initiative by producing or disseminating resources and spreading the word.
For further information about ThinkLets, or to get involved, please contact the Learning Together team.
Rowan Mackenzie is the founder of Shakespeare UnBard and Artistic Director of two collaborative in-prison theatre companies, the Gallowfield Players and Emergency Shakespeare, which write and perform Shakespeare plays in prison. She recently won the Worshipful Company of Educators 2020 Inspirational Educator Award for ‘Teaching Shakespeare in Challenging Settings’.
[a] sense of mental freedom is ever more important during this worrying and confined period.
Rowan has been supporting residents and staff across the prison estate in England, Wales and Scotland by producing materials based on Shakespeare’s plays for inclusion in In Cell Activity Packs. Through liaising with HMPPS Psychology and the central Safer Custody team, she supports their weekly themed newsletter with a play which explores that topic. She creates activity packs at three levels to account for literacy and educational achievements of the residents and encourages creative responses ranging from designing computer game characters to writing journal entries and drawing comic strips.
Rowan’s work is particularly important as it inspires people to learn and engage when formal education may have previously been seen as inaccessible for them
She also produces tailored rehearsal resources for the actors in her theatre companies enabling them to engage each week with the play they would be rehearsing and providing a valuable link to a semblance of normality for them during these challenging times. Her resources are being made available across public and private prisons, youth custody services, mental health teams and some social services departments. Rowan’s work is particularly important as it inspires people to learn and engage when formal education may have previously been seen as inaccessible for them.
One of the actors described their theatre work as “the closest thing to freedom I’ve experienced in prison”; and in Rowan’s opinion, “this sense of mental freedom is ever more important during this worrying and confined period. Providing our inmates with activities to keep their minds occupied is crucial to their mental health, now more so than ever!”
© Prisoners' Education Trust 2023