How we are responding to Covid-19
We have adapted our delivery of the Liberty Choir programme strengthening how we can support prisoners during lockdown. This continues to involve our team, volunteers, Liberty Choir graduates and supporters. We have launched a weekly Liberty Choir Radio show, supported by written music materials, together with a letter-writing campaign to prisoners.
Visit our Lockdown Page for content which will be updated regularly. This week we feature some great poems and readings from the Iraq War to Maya Angelou. Hear what Liberty Choir Graduate’s son Ricardo says about Liberty Choir bringing back his father to his family. Robert Bathurst reads Rudyard Kipling. Mishal Husain reads Kahlil Gibran. Volunteers read poems, find seals, Liberty Choir graduates get with the groove – and so much more.
Liberty Choir in Lockdown
Help us to continue and develop our singing programmes, both within the prison and in the community.
All donations are used to deliver sessions in prisons, support Liberty Choir graduates on the outside and expand Liberty Choir in new prisons.
Liberty Choir volunteers and graduates before the South London Choir weekly rehearsal. Photo by Mark Harrison
Liberty Choir volunteers and graduates before the South London Choir weekly rehearsal. Photo by Mark Harrison
Liberty Choir’s mission, vision and values
The Liberty Choir vision is that the reoffending rates among ex-offenders can be significantly reduced through a network of choirs located within prison and the community. We believe that the economic and social case for the choirs is overwhelming.
Our mission is that by 2020, the Liberty Choir will be delivered across a minimum of 6 prisons along with a ‘through the gate’ arts programme which will be recognised as a major factor in reducing reoffending.
“ Liberty Choir is now in its sixth year in the Trinity Wing of HMP Wandsworth and it is considered to be one of the most successful volunteer programmes at the prison.”
Jeanne Bryant Governor HMP Wandsworth
“What Liberty Choir is doing is exemplary – using music in prison to create something unique. But the Liberty Choir is more than just the singing – their connection with the prisoners is tangible and their kindness, support and care extends way beyond the prison walls.”
Emma Freud OBE, broadcaster, cultural commentator & honorary trustee of Comic Relief
“In the criminal justice system, we consider that each prisoner who does not reoffend has a positive impact on at least 100 people in the community. “
Ian Bickers former Wandsworth Prison Governor
“What you do makes a world of difference. It helped me feel more human in a difficult and oppressive environment. It gave me something to look forward to each week.Thanks for taking us all under your wing and making a difference to our lives.”
J HMP High Down Liberty Choir singer
“The work you do is so important, so right. Hope this gift may help a little.” Clare and Michael Morpurgo
About the choir
Liberty Choir was dreamed up by MJ Paranzino, singer, composer and choir director, and her partner, the journalist and writer, Ginny Dougary, more than ten years ago. Their idea was a full circle charity. The first part, where the seeds of hope are sown, takes the volunteers from MJ’s Choirs (in the community) and others into prisons to create choirs with inmates in a continuous programme of choir singing.
The second half of the circle
is when the seeds flower outside prison as the ex-offenders are ready to be released and become our Liberty Choir graduates joining MJ’s Choirs, where they recognize familiar faces and friends, are part of a community and enjoy a healthy and fun activity.
We are in touch with more than 70 Liberty Choir graduates, some of whom sing regularly in our choirs, others join us for concerts and special events and others still just let us know they are fine by phone or social media and by turning up at choir as a surprise.
We are now in our sixth year in HMP Wandsworth; we have been in our second prison, HMP High Down since October 2017 and our third prison, HMP Downview, our first women’s prison, since February 2018.
We are looking to expand into two to three more prisons in early 2020.
Video about Liberty Choir created by MJ’s Choirs member John Wilson
A year in the life of Liberty Choir
An article by our co-founder on what it was like to have Gareth Malone come into HMP Wandsworth and film Liberty Choir. On publication, we didn’t know whether we would be in the Gareth Malone BBC documentary. We were!
The choirmaster came to co-founder and music director, MJ Paranzino, to seek ‘inspiration and advice’ when he had difficulties setting up his choir in prison. She was delighted to help.
Victora and Albert Museum
On December 7th, we performed Christmas songs at the Victoria and Albert Museum for the fourth year – under the magnificent chandelier in the rotunda. All of MJ’s Choirs gather together to sing among the columns joined by many Liberty Choir graduates and their children and families. Last year, our V&A choir performance was featured on BBC’s Front Row. It is a joyful, beautiful occasion and a fitting end to our year.
The Royal Festival Hall
November saw Liberty Choir performing twice at the Royal Festival Hall.
Liberty Choir first performed at the kind request of The Koestler Trust to open their annual exhibition of offenders’ art at the Royal Festival Hall back in 2015, in front of the then secretary of state for justice, Michael Gove.
This year, we were honoured to be invited back by the Koestler Trust to perform for the opening of their prestigious exhibition as well as to close it. Our co-founder MJ said a few heartfelt words to the audience.
We have new choir members in the community choirs who came as a result of being inspired at the Royal Festival Hall.
On Thursday evening, October 17th, we had a delicious dinner at The Clink, a generous gift to Liberty Choir from the McGrath Charitable Trust. The dining room was made up of tables of donors, with a volunteer and Liberty Choir graduate on each table. The staff of The Clink, made up of professionals and serving prisoners at HMP Brixton, were immaculate: serving mocktails and canapés, followed by a three-course dinner, then coffee and petit-fours.
There was an auction, a capella singing – including all the kitchen and dining staff (some of whom were Liberty Choir singers from Wandsworth who had been transferred) – and a moving testimonial from Richie and his son Ricardo who talked about how Liberty Choir had “given my father back to me”.
Liberty Choir graduate fundraiser in Kent
Ross and his wife, Vicky, and their friends and family members threw their third fundraising event for Liberty Choir. Ross was one of the founding members of the choir in 2014 in HMP Wandsworth and is now an advisor to the charity. The first event was thrown by Vicky, while Ross was still in prison, in appreciation for keeping her husband safe and even happy for two hours a week. The second fundraiser was attended by Ross, when he was in day release, he sang some of the songs he had written in prison, where he also learnt to play the guitar – inspired by his choir sessions. The 2019 event was the biggest yet – with Ross a free man at last – and supported by the official Ramsgate Liberty Choir fundraising committee -(complete with Liberty Choir blue sashes)!
It was held in the gracious house and gardens of their friends and hosts, Kevin and Ioannis – with Ioannis cooking delicious Greek dishes and roasting lamb, and a spread of cakes which made Bake Off look amateur. There was singing and an auction and great speeches, with lots of new people attending and learning about a cause that is so close to Ross and his family’s hearts, and the sun shone all day long.
The Ramsgate committee is already planning next year’s do.
On July 2nd, Richie – one of our long-term graduates – made his Shakespearean debut as Polonius in a Kent Opera production of Hamlet; involving some weeks of rehearsal, alongside professional actors and other prison graduates. We were proud to work alongside Kent Opera, Bounce Back and Divert as our partners and look forward to more collaborations in the future.
On June 23rd we had a Liberty Choir fundraising event in the great auditorium at the special venue of Kings Place, home to three orchestras, as well as The Guardian and The Observer. Our thanks goes to Peter Millican and his family for this generous opportunity. Stephen Fry and Cherie Blair, a Liberty Choir patron, were on the stage discussing innovative ways to tackle prison reform, moderated by the BBC’s Kirsty Lang. MJ’s Choirs performed, alongside a dozen Liberty Choir graduates, with their families and friends supporting them in the audience. We had fantastic auction prizes and there were great testimonials from two of our graduates – Richie and Ross, with his wife Vicky. Terrific press support from the Today programme and The Observer and much social media.
Singing in prison – Best of Today
‘Unlocking hearts through song’
What role can music and singing have inside a prison? A programme running inside some prisons offers inmates the chance to sing in a choir and be part of a community choir after release. Today’s Mishal Husain visited Wandsworth Prison to meet the Liberty Choir.
Brighton Fringe Festival
This year’s theme was Love Notes. There were original songs composed especially for the event as well as the Choirs’ repertoire songs. Volunteers and Liberty Choir graduates joined us, with friends and family members in the audience.
Wandsworth Fringe Festival
May 18, we sang as part of Wandsworth Fringe Festival in the shadow of the iconic towers of the Battersea Power Station.
Press and Events
Liberty Choir has been very fortunate to have good press coverage, as well as many opportunities to perform and host get-togethers. Liberty Choir graduates join MJ’s Choirs in a range of challenging and enjoyable activities, from informal performances and pop-ups to appearances at stately homes and outstanding venues, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Festival Hall.
Gareth Malone’s The Choir, Aylesbury Prison - the choirmaster came to co-founder and music director, MJ Paranzino, to seek ‘inspiration and advice’ when he had difficulties setting up his choir in prison. She was delighted to help. See Press ...
On Thursday evening, October 17th, we had a delicious dinner at The Clink, a generous gift to Liberty Choir from the McGrath Charitable Trust. The dining room was made up of tables of donors, with a volunteer and Liberty Choir graduate on each table. The staff of The...
November saw Liberty Choir performing twice at the Royal Festival Hall. Liberty Choir first performed at the kind request of The Koestler Trust to open their annual exhibition of offenders’ art at the Royal Festival Hall back in 2015, in front of the then secretary of...
Ross and his wife, Vicky, and their friends and family members threw their third fundraising event for Liberty Choir. Ross was one of the founding members of the choir in 2014 in HMP Wandsworth and is now an advisor to the charity. The first event was thrown by Vicky,...
On December 7th, we performed Christmas songs at the Victoria and Albert Museum for the fourth year - under the magnificent chandelier in the rotunda. All of MJ’s Choirs gather together to sing among the columns joined by many Liberty Choir graduates and their...
Mark Harrison, who took the photographs for Liberty Choir's brochure, has won two international awards for his work and the brochure itself from CreativePool's 2019 Awards, as well as an Honorable Mention for his portrait of Richie in the Black and White Spider awards.
'Unlocking hearts through song' What role can music and singing have inside a prison? A programme running inside some prisons offers inmates the chance to sing in a choir and be part of a community choir after release. Today's Mishal Husain visited Wandsworth Prison...
Liberty Choir graduates and volunteers took to London Underground stations to deliver tuneful renditions of Christmas Greetings, singing on the Victoria, Northern, Jubilee and Piccadilly lines, as well as at Brighton and Hastings train stations. The carollers were...
“There’s so much wrong with our penal system but there are wonderful people working tirelessly to do their best within a broken system. The Liberty Choir, for example, shines in the darkness” Stephen Fry
We are grateful to all our founding supporters and friends but David Gilmour and Polly Samson have gone above and beyond to help Liberty Choir – not only financially but with their time and continuous outspoken public support of the programme.
David Gilmour, Liberty Choir patron and lead singer and guitarist with Pink Floyd, invited the Liberty Choir (ex-inmates and volunteers) to sing on his record Rattle That Lock. Upon release, Rattle That Lock racked up sales in excess of 100,000 meaning that the...
Listen to MJ’s Choirs singing carols along with our Liberty Choir graduates and their family and friends at the Victoria and Albert Museum on Radio 4’s Front Row arts show broadcast on Christmas Day.