Liberty Choir
Unlocking hearts through song

What we do – Prison

The overall aim of Liberty Choirs  is to provide for excluded and isolated people (for example, those in secure psychiatric settings or people who are serving custodial sentences) a ‘through the gate’ programme of high-quality singing and social development.

It is designed to help develop skills and self-confidence, open up the world of arts through singing and provide access to new social networks as the participants re-enter the wider community.

 

 

These are all good people and it gives me hope, hope that life can be different. I am a recovering addict. I can’t expect anything from my children but they show me love; they see a change in me.
Pete

Ex Prisoner

We are  in touch with more than 70 ex-offenders (Liberty Choir graduates) some of whom sing with MJ’s Choirs, others perform with us at festivals, and others just phone or message us to let us know they are OK.

Volunteers

Special visitors

Prison choir sessions

Liberty Choir graduates

Prison Programme

The crux of the programme is that volunteers from MJ’s four community choirs come into HMP Wandsworth, HMP High Down and HMP Downview and commit to singing weekly, or regularly, alongside the prison inmates – and this combination of singers is what is called the Liberty Choir. The intention is that the singing is a continuous programme throughout the year, as this yields the most beneficial results. When the prisoners come out, they are called Liberty Choir graduates. They can then join MJ’s Choirs in the community or just stay in touch as we offer friendship and support to them.

Concerts

The Liberty Choir performs regular concerts within the prisons. This is crucial to build the confidence and growth of the prisoners but also shows the prison staff the importance of what is being accomplished. The most powerful concerts, to date, are the ones where the offenders and volunteers performed for the friends and family members of the inmates; many of whom have never seen their loved ones in this light before.

“The concert at the end of the programme was amazing…It was wonderful to see the pride on the prisoners’ faces and the importance for them to perform to their families. The two former prisoners who now sing in Balham spoke so beautifully, without any scripts and from the heart.”
Community choir singer

“My son’s up there [on stage] and it’s great to have something to feel proud of. When he wrote to us about
the choir I couldn’t believe it was him.”
Parent

“The fact that prisoners on release were prepared to come back to the prison and stand up in front of a large crowd of prison staff and visitors and talk about their positive experience of the choir was rather amazing and was a reflection of the true impact of the programme.”
Community choir singer

“What you and the choir are doing is nothing short of amazing. To have fought the system, the paperwork, the resistance of individuals who don’t understand what this means and to actually do it, is herculean.”

Liberty Choir graduate

“It can be intimidating to join the community choirs; you feel like the odd one out. These people are busy, they have good jobs, they’ve never seen the other side but you have to break that barrier and seeing the familiar faces of volunteers from inside is a big help. Personally I decided to announce to the group that I had been in Wandsworth. I wanted to be open and honest and people accepted me for it. .”
Savid

Liberty Choir graduate

“I find it uplifting, it makes me energised, I have a smile on my face. I have performed in everything, every concert, I have found my voice again and I’m singing a lot more whereas before I was just producing stuff for other people. ”
Dave

Liberty Choir graduate

Award winning brochure

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.

Please take a minute to look at our award-winning brochure on Liberty Choir.

Evaluation

The first three eight-week Liberty Choir programmes, starting on April 1st 2014 at Wandsworth Prison, were the subject of an independent evaluation report by Laura Thorne of Confluence Partnerships Ltd.

She attended choir practices in the Trinity Wing and concerts, and interviewed: MJ’s community choir volunteers, the singing prisoners, prison staff and family members and friends of the prisoners.
The Liberty Choir programmes will continue to have on-going independent evaluation. Below are some powerful quotations from her report.
Read full report

“This makes me a bigger person. I have definitely turned the other cheek where before I would have waded in.”
Prisoner

“This could be so exposing but it doesn’t feel that way. I feel energized and closer to the rest of the group. That feeling spills over onto the wing. We are different people because of this experience.”
Prisoner

“It has made me feel like I belong to something refreshing and positive. I have learnt about music, harmony, what happens when you work together. It helps me relax when I’m back on the wing and gives me something to look forward to each week.”
Prisoner

“I’ve never seen this level of focus or enthusiasm before. They are often bored so go along to things because there’s nothing else to do but this is far more than that. They behave accordingly because they don’t want to lose the opportunity.”
Staff member

“I believe having the choir has helped settle Trinity wing down as a new unit more quickly than otherwise. The guys have developed confidence and have a more positive outlook. They engage with people they wouldn’t otherwise and that has an impact on the wing atmosphere.”
Staff member

“This has enabled them to find their voice in a non-aggressive way. For some that will be the first time they’ve done that so it’s a big deal.”
Staff member

Liberty Choir has been the subject of a number of different academic papers and evaluations

 In 2016, a  third-year Cambridge music undergraduate, Jasmine Bourne, approached us to ask us if she could study the choir charity for her dissertation.

“After deciding that I would like to do a dissertation on music in prisons, I came across The Liberty Choir online and was keen to include them in my research. I was drawn to them not only because of the unique nature of their project, but the potential that it held to positively influence the lives of people in prison.

After I began research with them in January 2016 I soon realised this potential was fulfilled through the work of MJ, Ginny, and all the singers in The Liberty Choir. I was impressed by what I found in this new initiative, and because of the new ideas that I developed in my dissertation surrounding the positive output of The Liberty Choir I received a First Class for my dissertation in June 2016.

I am currently working towards the publication of this dissertation in an academic journal, to enable the academic community to learn from and develop the unique work that The Liberty Choir has started.”

View dissertation

Jasmine Bourne,

BA Hons. (Cantab.), Dip.ABRSM

Liberty Choir is also the subject of a report by Dr Gillian Mezey, MBBS FRCPsych, Consultant and Reader in Forensic Psychiatry who commissioned Liberty Choir to work in Springfield Hospital, Forensic Unit – our work was highly commended in the mental health awards of the NHS. 

Extracts from the report

‘…improved happiness and wellbeing; reduced stigma; increased confidence and self esteem; greater emotional connectedness and communication.’

‘The physicality of the singing appeared to help patients to regain a sense of control over their voice and bodies’

‘there were many patients who carried on attending the choir, even when they had disengaged with every other activity, or following a difficult week on the ward…..’

View full report

Dr Gillian Mezey

MBBS FRCPsych, Consultant and Reader in Forensic Psychiatry

Liberty Choir works with many different partners, one of whom is Trailblazers. This is a letter from one of their volunteers.

In reference to the Friends and Family concerts

“I have attended the Liberty Choir’s annual Friends and Family Concert in HMP Wandsworth and it is heart-warming to see the pride with which the prisoners perform for their family members. If they are then able to remain connected with such a supportive group when they move back into the community, their chances of turning their lives around are much enhanced.”
See full letter

Volunteer Mentor

Trailblazer, Mentoring Young offenders