A charity forming choirs in prisons, including HM Prison Maidstone, have announced they hope to eradicate re-offending.
Heather Phillips, a former lawyer, and Jane Evans, an ex-finance director, created Beating Time with the aim of equipping prisoners with the skills they believe offenders need to rebuild their lives. The charity uses group singing to help prisoners fight mental illness, feel socially included and develop employability skills which they say includes listening, communication, commitment, focus, presentation and team work.
Currently working with four prisons, including HM Prison Maidstone, and expanding to cover eight in total, Ms Phillips and Ms Evans are also building networks for people who have been released from prison to use to get jobs or create their own businesses.
Ms Evans said: “With the average, annual cost of a prisoner being £36,000, which is more than the average wage, it would have been crazy not to have done something to try to get prisoners to contribute to the economy rather than being a drain on it whilst also providing them with the support, skills and opportunity to avoid re-offending.
“We realised with our contact base through our previous jobs, experience and networking ability, we were better placed than most people to do this.”
Growing up, communal music was a very ordinary part of Ms Phillips’ life, her grandfather and father sang in church choirs in Yorkshire, her godmother was a choir mistress and her mother and godfather are church organists. She joined a local choir in her 40s and, realised that she always left choir in a vastly better mood than she arrived in and that ‘up’ feeling stayed with her for a day or two.
She explains: “I think the experience of singing in a choir gave me the creative courage to start my own business, Singing Works in 2010. Team work, empathy, stress release, powerful mood booster are attributes I thought all organisations could use.”
So she started over 20 work place choirs including: Royal Mail, Shell, The Dorchester, and Adidas.
Inspired by her experience as a law student where she encountered a boy who had been in care and imprisoned for stealing cars to reach his absent mother, Ms Phillips thought the benefits of singing as a group might have an even greater resonance and impact in prisons than the work place.
Ms Phillips approached Ms Evans at the school gates - their sons were in the same year at school - and asked her if she was interested in the charity’s idea. Ms Evans, a former corporate finance director at KPMG, decided she was, though admits that her musical talents were limited.
“I used to play the recorder at school and would go to the odd musical at the theatre but that was about it,” she says. “I had to practice what I preach, and after begining to work with Heather it is great to be able to say, based on personal experience, that what we do really does work.”
Beating Time’s vision for the future is to use every skill, contact and experience they’ve had to build working relationships with businesses and other organisations that are working with prisons, to help people with a “history” build business plans and new lives. They are currently finding businesses to provide the jobs, a start-up fund and mentors needed with the hope of reversing the reoffending epidemic in the UK: They are launching a Beating Time Entrepreneurs Fund in London, which they plan to move out to other areas if successful.
Source: Kent News