Unlock the talent inside

Since 1962 the Koestler Awards have played a unique, national role in motivating prisoners, secure hospital patients and immigration detainees to take part in the arts. The Koestler Awards are simple and powerful – we reward achievement, build self-confidence and broaden horizons for some of society’s most disadvantaged and marginalised people.

Our work harnesses the uniquely transformative power of the arts to help individuals learn the skills and gain the confidence to live creative, positive and productive lives. Each year we receive more than 7,000 entries from over 3,500 entrants across the UK in 52 categories. More than 2,000 Awards are granted by over 100 esteemed judges, and each year culminates in a curated exhibition at Southbank Centre which showcases the incredible power of the arts to transform lives.

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Opening Notes

After months of preparations there has been one very important element missing from our EFG London Jazz Festival project until now: the music! On Wednesday 6th November, we were pleased to finally start making some noise, with our first workshop session inside HMP Wormwood Scrubs.

One of the artworks given out to spark ideas

Even with all the planning in the world, projects like this depend on who is in the room. For this series of workshops our group is comprised of about 15 men from the prison, two workshop leaders and musicians (Sherry and Fusion) and representatives from Koestler Arts, Serious (producer of the EFG London Jazz Festival) and HMP Wormwood Scrubs. The men have all volunteered to take part in the sessions, responding to information from staff in the education team and to posters we put up around the prison.

We’ll be based in the chapel at Scrubs for the next 2 weeks. It’s a wonderful, airy space and beautifully decorated with paintings and stained glass – a testament to a Victorian way of doing prison design. In some ways it’s easy to forget you’re behind the gates, aside from the officers and the plastic cups for tea and coffee. Although usually a space of worship and contemplation, it also lends itself well to being creative, with a grand piano, drum kit, speakers and ample space to move.

This first session was all about getting to know each other. The group are a mixture of ages, experiences and musical abilities. Some have taken part in music workshops before and some haven’t. Still, it was clear from the beginning that everyone in the room had a passion for music. Also immediately apparent was the mutual respect and sensitivity in the room. During our ice-breaker activity, ‘Allow me to introduce’, the group worked in pairs to interview each other about their inspirations, hopes for the future and what makes them unique. As we went around the group, feeding back about our interview partners, pin-drop attentiveness was given to each individual as we talked about these pretty big questions.

This music course encourages me to encourage others […] A lot of people don’t know what talents are within themselves.

Workshop participant

Then came the music! Each participant was given the floor to talk about their musical heroes or to perform something in front of the group. The room was soon filled with acapella singing, rap, spoken word and guitar. It was wonderful to see the expression and musical personality of each of the men.

HMP Wormwood Scrubs Chapel

The session seemed to fly by. Next week we’ll be starting to compose our set for the concert and, in order to spark some ideas for lyrics over the coming days, everyone was given images of visual artwork from the Koestler Awards.

We ended around the piano, with Sherry and some of the participants singing us out and others jamming along on the drums. We all agreed that we think there’s going to be some great music at the end of this project!

Where next?