Launched in September 2020, CashBack for Change is a three-year project funded by Scottish Government Programme CashBack for Communities. The project is run by YDance and Glass Performance with activity taking place in Falkirk, Renfrewshire, Angus, North and East Ayrshire, Dundee, Perth, and East and West Dunbartonshire.
CashBack for Change uses dance and theatre as a tool to engage and positively influence young people aged 10 -21 who are most at risk of displaying anti-social behaviours and/or entering the criminal justice system. The project targets young people living in areas of high deprivation and crime, those not engaging in mainstream education and in alternative education centres, and those already in the criminal justice system at HMP & YOI Polmont.
As part of our CashBack for Change Celebration Day, we are sharing some case studies from the first year of the project. The following is an extract from the CashBack for Change Annual Report 2021, prepared by Catch the Light.
Polmont HMYOI Case Study
At the outset, both dance and drama were due to be delivered to young people in Polmont HMYOI. However, with a pre-existing presence drama was easier to continue during the pandemic, although not in the way intended.
In February 2019, Glass launched Polmont Youth Theatre (PYT) in HMYOI Polmont, the first ever Youth Theatre in a Scottish prison. It is delivered through ongoing partnership with Barnardo’s and the Scottish Prison Service. Glass deliver weekly sessions in the performing arts space at HMYOI Polmont. As a performing arts company, the work focuses on using drama as a creative engagement experience that builds confidence, develops physical and personal skills contributing to improving the mental health and wellbeing of participants. This case study describes how the project was adapted to respond to the Covid-19 lockdown regulations. It highlights ways that creative interventions can adapt as well as an example of how positive partnerships (in this case between Glass and Barnardo’s) leads to a stronger impact.
The CashBack funding was allocated to Polmont Youth Theatre Awards Programme, but due to the restrictions imposed by Covid face-to-face work stopped. Delivery was realigned to adapt to the new circumstances. Prior to involvement in the CashBack funded programme, a group became established through a summer drama programme. Using the ‘Email a Prisoner’ network, Glass began a letter writing initiative, whereby young prisoners were invited to respond to questions and set tasks. There were 10 young people who responded every week and became really involved in the process. This group formed into what is now known as the JukeBox programme. Through letter writing the core group shaped the content for a radio show that is broadcast across the prison every two weeks.
Barnardo’s Youth Workers support work alongside Glass and as part of Barnardo’s work, the young people started a Dynamic Youth Award (DYA) which gave a useful framework to the programme.
To support the achievement and meet the required criteria of the DYA it was agreed that the young people would create three Christmas Special radio shows. With the youth worker’s support the first few months were spent developing the content for the shows. Thereafter, for two days a week over three weeks, young people recorded themselves presenting their segments of the radio broadcasts. The content included themed music sets, themed playlists, and dedications to family members. Some of it reflected a positive sense of Christmas. They also came up with quizzes, a segment on mental health, a segment on the climate change, creative tasks, and a Christmas joke segment. One young person designed a logo for the broadcasts and others came up with original songs.
Every week young people chose songs on a programme theme. This could be about family, where they live, their experiences and memories, or hopes for the future. They explained a bit about the individual songs. Young people had an opportunity to add to the narrative if they want. The songs were then presented across the prison radio station.
What is fundamentally important to young people is they feel they have control of decisions making and choice in an environment where they have no control over many aspects of their lives.
Juke Box was broadcast to all 284 prisoners and Glass estimates to have engaged around 30 individuals more actively. A strength is that the Juke Box programme allowed Glass to connect with young people across the prison populations, including mainstream and protected prisoners. Inherently collaborative and creative in nature, it reached vulnerable young men, many of whom were dealing with trauma, literacy issues and anxiety, as detailed by the Creative Director:
Around 30 young people are involved in the project and that represents 10% of the prison population and we think that 90% of prisoners are listening to the programme every week.
Therefore, engagement through Juke Box has significantly increased the reach from the 10 projected in the original plan.
Confidence and Resilience
Workers felt that the universality and creative impact of music connected people. This was supplemented by the skills and conscious humanising approach taken by workers, such as using their name and referring to them in a positive way when playing their song requests on the radio. This had a positive impact on their confidence. The programme allowed the young people to assert their own thoughts feelings and sense of identity related to the songs they choose and present.
Because we connect with individual prisoners in their cells there is a sense that it eases the pressure on them in terms of how they behave in a prison environment. They can be true to themselves and express feelings that would be difficult to do in the open spaces of a prison environment or in the company of their peers.
Personal and Physical Skills
The Juke Box project sees the Polmont radio station as a way of engaging prisoners in a personal development process that enhances learning and skills development. For some, Juke Box was an opportunity to build a wide range of skills, from research to broadcasting, as this feedback from a worker to a young person demonstrates:
K has been a regular listener and contributor to the show showing a passion to be involved and a real knowledge of music. The process in creating the music quiz was a joy…his responses were quick and regular and he provided a full list of questions very soon into the process which was brilliant. The questions really offered listeners an opportunity to find out about different types of music and this was a very conscious decision by him to include something for everyone, which is a brilliant example of K’s care and thought he had behind the segments he created.
Where young people faced difficulties, the workers would find ways to work to individual strengths, as the Project Coordinator explained:
We had one young man who could not read or write and failed to respond to any of our letters. Through working and pushing himself to achieve the Dynamic Youth Award, along with listening to the contributions people were making as part of Jukebox programme he started working on his literacy with the Barnardo’s Youth Worker and is now at a stage where he is hand-writing letters to express his thoughts and opinions and directly responding to tasks we set for him.
Joint working with Barnardo’s brought mutual benefits and support for all in providing the additional support required, as the youth worker added:
Many young people in Polmont have literacy issues so when the Juke Box project was created it was a great opportunity for young people to find their voice, express themselves, and share their ideas about how they could contribute to the shows. So, I would recruit young people and support them with correspondence so they could be part of the project.
Health and Wellbeing
Young people’s health and wellbeing was under pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic. Restrictions added to an environment that was already designed to remove people’s civil liberties. Therefore, efforts to look after young people’s health and wellbeing was beneficial. K’s story highlights how crucial this was:
It was [the youth worker] who let us know that K actually wanted to create two segments, and his second segment was powerful, important and so well researched and put together. His reasoning behind his segment shows exactly why it had the impact it did. He knew how hard it can be for the young men in Polmont over Christmas and wanted to provide them with some ideas and information on how to look after their own mental health, and seek support when they struggle with it.
The Juke Box initiative created an opportunity to train and upskill a group of young men in aspects of theatre and drama that are useful outwith Polmont HMYOI and beyond.
Young men who were part of this group but have since left Polmont have asked how they can help develop and promote the Juke Box project. As a result of this we have been able to link them up with commercial radio stations. So, the project is having an impact beyond the walls of Polmont.
Contribution to Community
Workers noticed shifts in mindsets, such as one young man that took on the role of promoting the project, encouraging others to get involved. Young people could listen to these tracks and think of friends in a positive way that were recorded and presented by the young men, all contributing positively to the prison community – something they’ve never had the opportunity to do. The Juke Box suggested to listeners that through music of their choice there is a space for everyone here. This shone through at the Christmas Specials which included one DJ set based on the impact of Covid and presented to put a smile on people’s faces and another set on the theme of missing friends and family.
A good example of the contribution they are making is next week’s programme will focus on mental health. This is a response to the conversations around the current situation where prisoners are locked up for 23 hours, there is a lot of tension about. People are writing to us to tell us about music that calms them down, giving and asking for suggestion about what people do to unwind and deal with stress. There is a growing understanding about the positive impact people can have on other prisoners.
Antisocial or Criminal Behaviour
With an underlying masculine culture of violence and aggression within the prison, the performing arts can perforate the edges and offer new space and dynamics. Here, the Barnardo’s youth worker set the scene:
A lot of the young people are vulnerable and find it difficult to answer questions about themselves due to the perceived judgements they think people will make about them. Many of them are not in touch with who they really are so they do not want to admit they are not good at something or they’re lacking in aspects of themselves or their lives.
However, by recognising their positive influence on the prison community, content for the Juke Box was designed to ease tensions, as K’s feedback continued:
K received lots of research and poetry and used everything to write a great script, paired with some of his favourite songs and also a re-working of a poem which really added a beautiful moment to the segment. It was clear that he had handled the topic with care and consideration and importantly really focused on making sure all listeners were reminded to look out for each other, and to remind them that they are not alone.
One of the added value outcomes of the project is how it strengthened the collaborative working between Glass, Scottish Prison Service and Barnardo’s and how they interacted with young people. In some ways the pandemic experience levelled out some of the imbalances in roles as this feedback from Glass staff expanded:
We have been working with the youth workers and officers to devise a schedule and process for delivering and collecting DVDs and packs. This has been a complex process as only certain staff members are allowed access to the halls and a record needs to be kept of all materials received by young people. Rather than just being able to do this as a one off, we have worked out a process that will allow us to deliver new resources on a weekly basis allowing for progression and development of skills and ideas.
The same sentiment was expressed by a Barnardo’s youth worker:
The success was connected to the relationship they had with me as the youth worker and the Glass staff. Because of these personal connections young people felt valued. The young people had a significant input to the content. They choose the discussion topic and put forward their ideas in terms of what would be presented and how this would done.
Therefore, partners came together to overcome the challenges, including:
- Scaling up the delivery to reach the whole prison population
- Developing new digital skills
- Lack of face-to-face contact and informal conversations
- Devising new ways to communicate with the prisoners, for example DVDs with staff profiles are now issued
- Working remotely
The longer-term aim for the Juke Box project is that it evolves into an empowering process and is owned by the people who get involved. To achieve this Glass plan to support, curate, and direct them. The voices of the shows will be theirs and they will use their content to facilitate them taking full control of the shows. They would work and train the prison staff, so the Polmont radio station is filled with content made by the prison population, for the prison population. The young people would be doing the recording, the editing and presenting. In year two as face-to-face delivery returns, the project will return its focus to the Polmont Youth Theatre’ awards programme. A major outcome from this, is that the Juke Box project now has funding to continue in parallel to the dance and drama provision in Polmont HMYOI.
Photo Credit: Jassy Earl