Sounding Out was developed as a ‘through-the-gate’ programme for ex-prisoners – a new progression route for people who had taken part in our Music in Prisons projects. The programme is designed to support ex-prisoners to get their lives back on track following release, through a combination of live music performances and paid training placements.
“Being reformed and having a chance to creatively express myself outside is what it’s about for me. I see it as an opportunity to come out and get on with my life, but with the music relationships I had inside guiding me. It’s now going to be professional and with an audience!” Sharleen
More than music
Sounding Out recruits ex-prisoners we first met in custody. Initially, Sounding Out focusses on creating new music as a band in a format familiar to participants from their previous experiences on our projects. This time, however, they won’t be performing in a cramped education room, prison chapel or echoing gym; they will be centre-stage for some high-profile gigs to large audiences.
Crucially, however, Sounding Out not only further develops participants’ musical skills, but also supports them to access additional training opportunities and paid work placements as co-facilitators and positive role models on our Making Tracks projects with young people at risk of offending in Lambeth.
These inter-linking community-based programmes are a new strategic development for us, taking expertise garnered through working in custody over many years out into the community, inspiring and supporting even more people to reach their full potential through music-making.
The need for Sounding Out
The transition from the prison regime to resettling in the community can be fraught. From difficulties in securing safe accommodation to finding employment, there are many challenges for newly released prisoners. Sounding Out is designed to bridge this gap by offering a positive period of engagement that helps participants overcome barriers, build resilience and take the next steps towards engaging in relevant training and securing employment – providing the tools to begin rebuilding their lives beyond the prison gates.
“[He] completed 18 months on license from prison and there was no contact with police during this time or any intelligence linking him to criminal activity. This is a significant period for [him] and I honestly believe his involvement in Sounding Out was the principal reason.” Participant’s Probation Officer
Sounding Out has been in the pipeline for several years, with the aim of deepening the impact of our work in prisons. At the end of our prison projects, many participants express the desire to continue making music. Previously, we have been limited to offering a sign-posting service to opportunities provided by other organisations (which you can find detailed in the Music Out handbook).
Sounding Out also allows participants to demonstrate on a very public platform the positivity, talent and creativity locked inside our prisons, challenging the often negative perceptions of people who have spent time in prison. Sounding Out gives participants the opportunity to voice their feelings and experiences and to connect with audiences on a level as fellow human beings.
Sounding Out outcomes
When Sounding Out was still in the planning stages, we brought on board researcher Jim Cartwright to evaluate the first cohort as they formed the band Platform 7, took to the stage for some high-profile public performances, and developed their own facilitation skills on our Making Tracks projects with young people on the fringes of the criminal justice system.
The evaluation found that the programme had an important impact on aiding the resettlement of participants, concluding that for every £1 invested in the programme, there was a social return on investment of £4.85.
The evaluation was made possible by kind support of The Monument Trust and is available to read in full here.
The first cohort of Sounding Out participants have achieved some wonderful things, including performing at the Southbank Centre, St Marylebone Church and Bush Hall in large-scale performances alongside Mark Anthony-Turnage, the Neil Cowley Trio and Police Dog Hogan; they have appeared at conferences and events such as Sharing Good Vibrations, Clinks’ AGM, Koestler Trust’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations, and for the Hardman Trust in HMP Brixton; they have supported six cohorts of Making Tracks, and one participant was made a BBC Performing Arts Fund fellow.
The next phase of Sounding Out
Fully evaluating the first stage of the Sounding Out programme has allowed us to learn and develop Sounding Out accordingly, as a rolling programme with a 2-year period of engagement.