Workshops in Prisons

'We must...give female offenders the best possible support whilst they are in prison so they can successfully transition back into the community after release.'

Ministry of Justice Femae Offender Strategy June 2018

'Thank you for helping me make this special gift for my daughter!'

'Bedtime Stories is a worthwhile and important initiative and helped [us] to reconnect with young loved ones that were all really missing the power of words to connect...our words flew over the prison gates. I hope this important work can continue to reach other mums and dads imprisoned.' Prisoner, HMP Drake Hall

The Literary Festival is a registered charity and part of our charitable aims is to focus on encouraging children to read because of the immense benefits it brings in terms of well-being, literacy and life-skills.

We are making a particular effort to encourage parents to read with their children. Recent research has revealed a decline in reading to children, especially younger children and particularly at bedtime, which is recognised to be a very important time of the day for parental bonding. 

When parents, especially mothers, and their children are separated because a parent is in prison, family bonding opportunities are severely limited. Indeed half of imprisoned parents lose contact with their children. Importantly, however, those parents who are able to keep bonds with their children are more likely to have a better outcome in terms of rehabilitation, and are six times less likely to reoffend. Some facts: 

  • The prison population has increased 82% in last 30 years
  • Women make up only 5% of prison population, though the number of women in prison has doubled since 1993, and of those only 84% have committed a non-violent offence. Nearly 50% are re-convicted within a year of leaving prison.
  • It is estimated that 60%+ women in prison are mothers.
  • Only half of the women who had lived with or were in contact with their children prior to imprisonment had received a visit since going to prison.
  • Maintaining contact with children is made more difficult by the distance that many prisoners are held from their home area. This is particularly acute for women given the limited number of women’s prisons; their average distance from home is 66 miles.
  • One Home Office study showed that for 85% of mothers, prison was the first time they had been separated from their children for any significant length of time.

Imprisoning mothers for non-violent offences has a damaging impact on children and carries a cost to the state of more than £17 million over a ten year period.

We will continue to deliver workshops to prisons in the UK and working with the charity Storybook Mums so the women can record their stories for their children to enjoy over and over again at home. We hope this will go some way to bridging the gap at an essential time in a child's emotional development, and encourage parents not to reoffend.

Feedback from Women in HMP Peterborough, HMP East Sutton Park, HMP Drake Hall and HMP New Hall

'I loved today's workshop. I wasn't sure if I would like it or if i could do it as my son is 13 and I don't see him much, but I ended up writing almost an entire novel and I am very proud of the finished piece. I hope to read it to him over the phone. Highly recommend it to others.'

'I have really enjoyed the writing class. It really got my imagination working and I've now almost got an original story for me daughter! Hollie and Annie were amazing....they never made anyone feel like they couldn't do it. It's been a day of escapism and I've loved every minute.'

'I felt totally relaxed and proud that I was given the opportunity to write a story for my children. Both Annie and Smriti were brilliant and non judgemental. They taught us and encouraged us to write a story and truly made us believe we could. I loved it!'

'It was really good fun and I would never have believed I could write this story, but I’m really pleased with what I have achieved. I’m proud of my stories and I think my daughters will enjoy them.'

'I started the day thinking no way will I be able to do this but we had fun, shared ideas and really wrote stories. The day has gone so so fast and I have a story for my children that I know they will love. I have had a lovely day and a nice time and am so happy to have achieved what I thought I couldn’t'.

‘I thought that the workshops were excellent, a very tangible and effective way in which the women can reach out to their children, keeping those all-important family ties in place or a start to building them with their children.  Writing the stories was very hard for some of the women as it stirred up memories and often a feeling of loss and guilt, but [the workshop leaders] helped them manage their emotions, channelling them into the story, resulting in the women feeling more confident and better about themselves.  All this will help the women not to re-offend as well as remind their children that their mothers are thinking about them, giving the women some much needed comfort.’
Jane Wright
Learning Skills and Employment Manager
HMP Drake Hall

‘I was so impressed by the way that you relaxed the ladies and got the best from them. I think they all surprised themselves by what they actually achieved, and they certainly surprised me! Well done – it was an excellent day’s work.’
Victoria Barnett
Prison Library Development Manager | Libraries, Registration and Archives | Kent County Council

‘I would just like to thank you both for hosting the bedtime story writing workshop here at HMP New Hall. It was amazing to see the women’s confidence build throughout the day, you really inspired and encouraged them to create their work and helped them along the way.'
Fran Idle
Library Assistant
HMP and YOI New Hall

Male prisoners at HMP Maidstone

‘I can say it’s the best day of mine in prison and I learnt how to write a story for my kids who I miss a lot. In the morning I was worried whether I would be able to write anything but at the end of the session I actually wrote a four page story.’

‘It was probably the best of my days [behind] bars. This workshop has improved my self confidence and skills in creating my stories. Great job!’

‘I think for guardians and parents in prison, this is a must do workshop.’

For further information on prison statistics, click here.

We would like to thank the William A Cadbury Charitable Trust, The Souter Charitable Trust The Noel Buxton Trust and and Private Benefactors for supporting this work.

Live Feed

Latest News

Jodi Picoult heads Autumn Line-up

The bestselling US author to appear at the Festival in October

Autumn Line-up

Rick Stein, Ottolenghi, Jon Sopel included in the Autumn series

Festival Author on Prize Longlist

Sarah Perry, already winner of the Waterstones Book of The Year, on Bailey's Longlist

Click here for all news items