Workshops in Prisons

'Literacy transforms lives and can make society stronger, more successful and more equal'
National Literacy Trust


Read about the workshops in The Guardian

What they say about the workshops...

'After years apart, it gave me the opportunity to give my kids not only a keepsake, but also a piece of my imagination.'
Prisoner, HMP Ford

'I have felt human today, away from the prison regime and with other women feeling the same hurt being away from their children.' Prisoner, HMP East Sutton Park

'It made me feel proud and excited to read it to my daughter. Thank you very much!' Prisoner, HMP Ford

'This is one of the best things I have ever done.' Prisoner, HMP Hollesley Bay

'Thank you for helping me make this special gift for my daughter!' Prisoner, HMP New Hall

'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

'My little boy will love the story which I’ve written for him as he will know, just because Mummy isn’t around, Mummy still thinks about him every day, misses and loves him very much.  I feel very proud of myself for doing this. I can achieve things in life.' Prisoner, HMP Styal

'An unusual and highly valuable day. Our creative side were gently and effectively fostered by very experienced and gifted facilitators. By the end of a few hours we had crafted exciting and engaging stories that our children would read. Our own creations.' Prisoner, HMP Dartmoor

'Thank you for the opportunity to reach my babies in a very heartfelt manner.' HMP Channings Wood

'Wow! What an amazing day. I have felt human today, away from the prison regime and with other women feeling the same hurt being away from their children.' HMP East Sutton Park

'Today I forgot that I was in prison.' Prisoner, HMP Drake Hall

What we do...

The Festival, working with children's authors Hollie Hughes and Smriti Prasadam-Halls, delivers workshops to prisoners, teaching them how to write a bedtime story for their children or grandchildren. These can be sent to their children or recorded onto CDs by Storybook Dads/Mums which runs projects in many prisons so the children can enjoy them 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.

Why we do it...

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 also making a particular effort to encourage parents to read with their children. Recent research has revealed a decline in reading to children, especially to 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. often primary carers, 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.

What Prison Education Managers say...

‘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, 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

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

For further information on prison statistics, click here.


We would also like to thank the William A Cadbury Charitable Trust, The Souter Charitable Trust, The Noel Buxton Trust, The Leatherseller's Company and private benefactors for supporting this work.