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An update: our EDI work

In this blog, our chief executive Maisie provides an update on the work we have begun, and the next steps for Sing Inside in relation to equity, diversity and inclusion.

Image credit: Ian Dooley

Back in the summer we made a statement about our intention to become an anti-racist organisation, and ensuring that Sing Inside is inclusive to all people. Working in the criminal justice system, and being a charity, means we are working across two sectors where discrimination of many forms is built into the structures and ways of working. This means we have some unpacking to do, and a lot of reflecting, as well as deciding how we take steps forward. I also took responsibility to keep you all updated, and to answer any questions about this work, so I hope this brief update will fill you in on the initial steps we have taken, and where more needs to happen.

It’s no secret that this work is hard, but that only makes it more important. It’s been difficult to know where to start, when we can’t talk to the people we work with living in prisons – especially during such a difficult time for them. That’s not to say we have decided not to do anything, but it is a challenge. We want to have open conversations with all our stakeholders and create spaces where we can speak openly and build trust. I know that as soon as we can talk more easily, these conversations will be fruitful, but not being able to have them does feel like a bit of a stumbling block.

On the other hand, in lots of ways this distance from service delivery has given me a sense of perspective on how deep this work needs to go. Sing Inside has grown very organically from a very small, committed team, most of whom are still involved and invested. This means that lots of things about our history – the way we recruit and mobilise volunteers, the way we teach songs – has become embedded and normalised in our work and we might overlook things that need some thought. I think not contending with the practicalities of workshop delivery every day has, in relation to this work at least, helped me detach myself from some of our styles and practices and view them more objectively. I feel a bit guilty as I write that; nothing about this situation is what we would have wanted. I personally miss working in prisons and with our amazing people a huge amount, and I miss leading workshops and singing with others. But I do think we have worked hard as a team to come together around some bigger issues, and I think Sing Inside is stronger for it – even though it’s not been easy.

We’re right at the beginning of our ED&I journey and I know we have a long way to go. But we have started to review our practices and consider where things need to change, to embed equity, diversity and inclusion at the heart of our ways of working. Some of the steps we have taken so far have included:

  • Reviewing our musical policies – what we teach, how we teach it, and who should teach it. To reach more people, it’s essential that we look properly at our core offering: singing together, and making that accessible, enjoyable and inspiring for everyone. We have drawn up a set of questions for musical leaders to ask themselves when planning workshops and implemented these as part of our musical and pedagogy policies and workshop planning resources. In light of this review of the music we sing we will also be reviewing our planned musical leadership training to ensure we embed these principles in preparing musical leaders to work with us. By ensuring we programme a range of artists, genres, musical cultures and styles will be more engaging for everyone - providing the familiar alongside the new.

  • Looking at how we recruit volunteers – we’ve previously done most of our recruiting via universities, but in recent years we’ve had such amazing results in local communities that we want to consciously expand our reach. This doesn’t mean student volunteers won’t still be a crucial proportion of our volunteer base, but we want to engage local people in our cause and learn from them about how they want to volunteer, and what works for them. We’ve started doing this by running several volunteer engagement workshops which gave us real insights into their experiences of volunteering, and the changes we could make to make joining our workshops more accessible. Additionally, when we started Sing Inside was a handful of university choral scholars. Word travels fast between musicians, and so we have always had lots of people with the same musical training and approach joining our teams. However, we now know this isn’t the only way to work, and expanding outwards from any narrow group will help us be a more accessible and supportive charity for our volunteers – who are the backbone of this organisation. Our amazing local teams are leading on this work and mapping connections that they can make with local organisations, volunteering groups, choirs, and more to collaborate more effectively locally – so if you want to collaborate, get in touch!

  • Our strategy – as a team, we have found that a shared understanding, language and approach to equity, diversity and inclusion is essential, but we don’t have it yet. Unpacking some of our history and personal approach to these issues together will really help, so we’re excited to work with the consultancy Strawberry Words led by Rebbecca Hemmings across our teams later this year. Through several workshops we will start to form that understanding and write our first action plan for equity, diversity and inclusion, which we can then embed into our strategy forming exercise over 2021-22.

  • Data collection - a really important part of understanding the gaps in our accessibility and who we need to become more inclusive to is data collection. Having implemented our first CRM system we are now able to collect data from volunteers and supporters, if they are happy to give it, which helps us to understand the demographics of our volunteer base. So far, we have anonymised EDI data on 50 of our supporters and volunteers - so if you’re reading this, and you can spare us a few minutes to provide your info, please do by clicking here. It will really help us to focus our interventions and make sure everything we do is underpinned by useful data.

  • Our volunteers – we know that our volunteers feel they would like more training and support to get this work right, and we want to provide that. Strawberry Words will be providing an initial session for volunteers on 18 March, 2pm-4pm, which you can sign up to here. In this session we will be exploring practical examples of how assumptions, stereotypes, prejudices and unconscious bias can and often do lead to marginalisation and discrimination. There are only 25 places available, so do sign up quickly!

I know lots of this sounds like “we’ve started thinking about it, and we are yet to act”. To a certain extent that’s true, and over the next few months all these starting points will start to take root in our strategies and plans for 2021-22 and further ahead. For now, we can use this time to reflect, hopefully with a little more perspective than normal, and start gathering our tools to strengthen Sing Inside moving forward.

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