Pioneering Prison Art Exhibition hosted by Soft Touch Arts

Artwork by prisoners at Glen Parva Young Offenders Institute has gone on display in a city art gallery and features a diverse mix of paintings, sculptures, models and sketches.

The exhibition, called ‘Inside, Outside’, features the result of an eighteen-month arts workshop programme, led by award-winning Leicester charity Soft Touch Arts in collaboration with Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT) which provides healthcare services at the prison.

Weekly arts workshops, to improve the wellbeing of prisoners, particularly those with mental ill health and alcohol and substance misuse issues, were held. This gave an opportunity for them to attend the project to develop their creative skills and express themselves through their artwork. The project was supported by the Big Lottery Fund, Blaby District Council and the Charity of Carlton Hayes.

The Inside Outside exhibition has been sponsored by 36 Crime and was opened by Mr William Harbage QC at a special private view on 7th July. Michelle Simpson of 36 Crime commented: “We were delighted to be approached by Soft Touch Arts to partner with them to present the outstanding artwork created by the young men who have taken part in the project. The positive impact these sessions have clearly had on the participants and their families is heartening. We would encourage everyone, no matter what their involvement with the criminal justice system is, to come and see the artwork on display at this exhibition”

More than 80 of the prison’s 400 18-21 year-old prisoners took part in the workshops which ran in two phases, with artwork from phase one now featured on the walls of the visitor centre at Glen Parva, and the phase two artwork included in the current exhibition.

The sessions in prison were run by Soft Touch arts workers Kieran Walsh and Lewis Buttery. Kieran said: “This exhibition is a culmination of months of hard work by the young men at Glen Parva. Many of them have never had the chance to be this creative before, and the idea of having an exhibition really gives them a sense of determination and enthusiasm. We’re really proud of everything they’ve done. Some of them want to continue to work with us after their release, which is a testament to the strong relationships that have been built up over the course of the project.”

Following the success of the Glen Parva project, LPT, Soft Touch Arts and Leicester Prison have been awarded a £3,000 grant to work on a collaborative project called Healthier Choices.

Natasha Garraway-Charles, head of prison healthcare for LPT, commented: “Two of the Glen Parva artists, Leon and Scott, were at the opening event. Leon told guests; ‘This gave me a way to express myself and I’d say to anyone with creative force inside them that I have first-hand experience of how well it worked. I was one of those who said I would go to the class because I had nothing else to do but it has turned out to be a journey for myself.’”

Inside Outside is on display at 50 New Walk, Leicester LE1 6TF from 11am-5pm Tuesday – Saturday until 28 July 2016.

Feedback from Glen Parva’s Inside Outside artists:

BF It helps me to relax and cope with my mental health. Normally I get irritated and angry and I can lash out – this has shown me a way to help keep calm. I draw a lot in my cell now which keeps me calmer. JL I’ve grown in confidence a lot during the sessions. When I’m there I feels safe, which is a big thing for me. WP It’s helped me to be creative, it really is therapeutic. Looking at the large angry figure I’m working on now, its kept coming into my mind – ‘do you know what you’re fighting for?’ My character is violent and fights everything, and I’ve thought about how I want to be – which isn’t like that. . JW it started off helping get me out of my cell, but it’s helped me build up trust in the other prisoners and staff. I look at the bird sculpture I’ve done and I feel really good about the work I’ve put into it.