2019 was a busy year at Sing Inside. In this blog our chief executive Maisie Hulbert (@maisiehulbert) outlines her personal perspective on the achievements, challenges and changes.
2019 has definitely been our busiest, most exciting year yet. We’ve expanded into six new prisons - HMP Huntercombe, HMP Oakwood, HMP Send, HMP Full Sutton, HMP Long Lartin and HMP Bullingdon. Our Oxford branch in particular has grown a lot, taking on three new prisons and now working regularly in four. We have started to explore a new model of working on three or four-day projects culminating in a concert. Our first multi-day workshop ran in HMP Whitemoor in July, a powerful creative collaboration with Learning Together. The second, in December at HMP Huntercombe, was run by a group of second year music students at the University of Oxford, as part of their Music in the Community module, culminating in a performance and a rap about Sing Inside. The collaborations we have enjoyed in 2019 have been so powerful, and an example of how much stronger our impact can be if we work with others, drawing on their experience and expertise and contributing our own.
Beyond operational changes, we have developed our teams and processes – most importantly, appointing our first board of trustees and achieving charitable status in March. After almost a year of forms and endless phone calls, it is exciting to be moving forward with all the opportunities charitable status affords us. Already, we have been able to access funding to expand outside of the South-East, moving into Staffordshire and Yorkshire, and found the space we need to build our reserves and sustainability. Our teams have gone from strength to strength, with streamlined operations and areas of oversight and our first training away day with our local committees and board.
Sing Inside is growing quite quickly – it is a whirlwind and a huge learning curve. Flitting between all the different jobs that need doing is sometimes totally overwhelming. I often feel like I have a lightbulb moment, and I know what needs to be done, but I am feeling around in the dark for the light switch. At times we have overfaced ourselves, had to roll back and deal with cancellations, and manage a whole host of relationships with new stakeholders. For me, progressing from leading a student committee to leading a charity is a big step, and exhausting in itself, sometimes compounded by sleepless nights. I wouldn’t give it up for the world, but it has its moments.
As they say, though, variety is the spice of life. One minute I am running a workshop at HMP Oakwood with 26 residents and 9 volunteers, belting out Brown Eyed Girl in two-part harmony, and the next minute I am doing the accounts. I’ve personally found it weird to step back from the frontline delivery (the FOMO is real) and to focus on other things, but I have still managed to deliver a few workshops. Refreshing my own focus on why we are here has helped me. To see confidence and enthusiasm light up in volunteers and residents alike is a feeling I‘ve never found anywhere else.
I am so proud of the team at Sing Inside. Our huge network of people – inspiring volunteers, prison residents with all their talent and interest, friendly and committed prison staff, incredible partners and advisors – feels like a huge family. I could never have predicted how much I need that network; people to have a moan to, to encourage when the going feels rough, and to celebrate success with, however small. Working with our trustees is a particular joy. As we have grown out of a project fuelled by student enthusiasm to a more professional model, having people with experience, understanding and passion for the cause feels like a luxury. Nigel, Camille and Andrea have helped us with everything, and kept us going with a critical but friendly eye.
Variety is the spice of life, but it is also good to stabilise, acknowledge challenges and reflect. The Sing Inside family – every prison officer explaining processes to us, every resident telling us what they need, every volunteer who has dragged themselves to a minibus at 6am - deserves a solid, sustainable future. I am determined that together, with the people we work for, we can deliver that. Here’s to 2020 - and a few nuggets from some residents we have worked with this year to leave you with.
“Working together as a group was a really positive experience. I feel a lot more confidence in singing and opening up in general. The week has brought a smile to my face I'll be keeping for months.”
“It was an engaging and inclusive group. Love a bit of humanity injected into the regime.”
“A very pleasant surprise indeed. From a feeling of slight trepidation to feeling fully included in an unfamiliar territory.”