Prisons and Young Offender Units

In workshops in YOI units and prisons we hope to help participants to affect social change and personal transformation through creative engagement.

From May - October 2024 The Women's Support Centre, Surrey is working with those attending Friday's Art Class to make work for the annual New Beginnings Art Awards in the autumn. Open to women in the community and in the three female prisons in Surrey, the awards focus on a journey of expression, healing and recovery. The theme for this year's competition is Past, Present, Future.

Mary Chater is leading drama workshops on the concept of Time in Shakespeare to complement the art work being made. We are hoping to create group drama pieces for the evening of the presentation of the award.

The WSC provides specialist, practical and emotional support to women, by women. The centre works with women, with their truth, experiences and needs from a Trauma - informed, client led and professional approach.

They welcome women who are in contact with or are at risk of being in contact with the criminal justice system. They offer a holistic approach providing support and advocacy on a wide-range of services both targeted and universal including groups, programmes and courses.


In the spring 2019 'All that Glitters is not Gold - but it's my time to shine - How do we know who we are?'  with in Woking we ran weekly drop in sessions for former prisoners. We worked with some of the women to create a performance piece for International Womens Day, giving each participant the opportunity to tell her story as part of the project. The show was remarkable and the reaction from the audience to the stories overwhelmingly supportive - please see comments on the pdf below.  

A short performance followed for New Beginnings Arts Awards day in September at The Light Box in Woking The theme of the piece Journey Within - 5 words that best represent your journey or a journey you've taken. Stella Kanu, ( pic below ) Executive Director of LIFT will be Guest Speaker.

Professor Charlotte Scott ( head of Shakespeare at Goldsmiths) and founder Mary Chater took a programme of Arts Council funded work into HMP Styal in Cheshire in the late summer / early autumn that mirrored the type of work done in the spring at the Woking women's support centre. 

 A Midsummer Nights Dream Mashup was performed by women prisoners in the gym - the performers were resilient and tenacious in the face of a rowdy audience and Eddie Tarry, an officer joined in the show as a Fairy. We spent two weeks rehearsing and making the props and back drop - the play was set in Ancoats woods near Manchester.

The feedback was universally positive -

 I loved doing the drama group and I feel loads more confident in myself. 

When I signed up for the drama group, I expected to just do the scenery and help with costumes as I’m quite arty. A couple of people couldn’t come so I found myself landing a couple of parts. I loved getting into character and playing the parts that I didn’t expect to. This was something I had never imagined myself doing. I really thought I couldn’t do it so it was amazing to find that I could. As a direct result of this, I am being considered for ROTLs ( Release on Temporary Licence ) when I become eligible. I also have an opportunity to train and gain employment on release. This is totally unexpected and something that I would have never got without being part of this group. It has opened doors for me that would never previously have been opened and given me the potential for a totally different future. Thank you both!

Prison staff Anastasia Selby and Eddie Tarry

Thirteen women from HMP Styal performed The Christmas Toy Story (The Nutcracker springs to mind ) for Family Day - they designed panto type props and one woman, a professional seamstress made fabulous Toy costumes from material she found in the prison. About 150 family members and staff watched the performance with the Toys singing and dancing with some of the younger children in the audience. The women created a wonderfully celebratory atmosphere and everyone had fun whether performing or participating in the audience.


 I think the women who have been involved have benefitted in many ways, inclusion, team building, self-confidence, resilience, we could go on and on. I also agree that there is an appetite for this type of intervention and hopefully we will see you again with a bigger spectacular.

I’ve noticed this morning a renewed confidence and a buzz among the women who took part. They have all been to see me at different times throughout the morning, all wanting to talk about the show and seek affirmation that they nailed it.

I’ve also been stopped a couple of times by women who attended family day asking how they get involved in such things in the future!!

Ana is absolutely delighted and has talked non-stop about it. She told me that a number of children had wanted to wear or play with the props.  A little boy had left wearing the robot costume absolutely thrilled!!

Click here for audience feedback for March 8th 2019 in Woking