Adapting through creativity
This is the fourth in a new blog series chronicling the different ways in which organisations in the criminal justice sector are helping their service users survive the impact of coronavirus. It is written by Rob Hollows of Beyond Recovery.
If your organisation – statutory, voluntary, or private – would like to share how you’ve had to adapt to be able to continue to provide your service, please get in touch.
From running our first pilot group at HMP Onley five years, until just a few short weeks ago, Beyond Recovery delivered its mental health programmes (to more than 400 people) in prison face-to-face. This was mostly in group situations, supplemented by one-to-one sessions for those who were harder to reach. So, when it became apparent that it wasn’t safe to deliver our programmes in person, we needed to find creative ways to continue to support the men and women with whom we’ve been working.
We have a small but incredibly dedicated team of facilitators and volunteers, all of whom have pulled together to explore how we can continue to help those who have already been impacted by our work in prison. We all agreed that it was vital to stay connected, and to ensure that everyone felt supported, despite the Covid-19 restrictions. Therefore, we decided to write personal weekly letters to every individual who is assigned to our programme in prison.
We have already seen the impact these letters are having, with some incredibly heartfelt and moving replies received to date; some of them several pages in length.
With the increased restrictions faced by those in prison, including being locked up in their cells for longer than usual each day, we wanted to provide activities that would help them pass the time, while also continuing to positively impact their mental health. We are now creating ‘Beyond Packs’ each week, which contain a mixture of relevant reading materials, learning activities, inspiring quotes, colouring and word searches.
The feedback we’ve received about the packs has been very encouraging and we can see that they are not only keeping minds occupied, but also reminding people about the key principles of the work we do with them. We have received requests for the packs from several UK prisons alongside those we work with currently, the Prisoner Learning Alliance, and they have even been requested as far afield as New Zealand, so we feel sure they are making a difference.
We are busy exploring other ways in which we can reach people in prison when face-to-face contact is not possible. For example, we are looking at whether we can utilise prison TV and radio channels to share content that we know can be helpful for wellbeing. We’ve compiled a list of inspirational and educational YouTube videos to be channelled directly to the prison residents. We’re also examining the possibility of running digital courses that can work within the prison regime. This will be a challenge but it’s one that we’re willing to meet head on because we know how important it is for people in prison continue to receive our help and support.
For those no longer in prison but who continue to receive our support – the Beyond Recovery Apprentices – we are now running a weekly online support group in place of the previous monthly meet-ups in person. Staying in contact and holding a regular space for our apprentices is vital at a time like this, when everyone is facing so much uncertainty.
We all need to be reminded of our innate mental health and wisdom from time to time and the knowledge that we’re all in it together can be comforting. To that end, we are also holding online weekly meetups for anyone who wishes to feel connected and join in with a conversation about how we’re all navigating life in these unprecedented times.
Once thing is certain … Beyond Recovery’s resolve to continue to adapt and find new and better ways of delivering its programmes to those in prison. On our various team calls each week we discuss all aspects of our work and we will go on finding creative solutions to continue it as the Covid-19 situation evolves. And, even when things have returned to a degree of normality, we won’t simply go back to doing things the way we did before. Instead, we’ll channel other methods of connecting with and impacting those in prison, alongside our in-person groups. We can see that having the time and vision to adopt new ways of working is a positive and we’ll continue to embrace the outcomes.