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HMP Whitemoor visit December 2023

A team of 11 volunteers and Sing Inside staff visited HMP Whitemoor for a festive visit and concert in December 2023. In this blog, first time volunteer Emilie reflects on her experiences on the day and how she found going into a prison for the first time.

A friend had told me about Sing Inside and I’d been on the mailing list for a while when a newsletter about volunteering opportunities came through - I was really keen to do my first visit, and signed up for HMP Whitemoor in December 2023. I’m a music grad (five years out out of uni now, sob) and an enthusiastic shower singer. I had been wanting to get involved in participatory arts, and in particular group music-making for a while, so this opportunity felt like a sign! I also feel passionate about Sing Inside’s mission - everyone deserves a chance to feel the benefits of having a good sing song. 

We had a briefing a couple of days before the visit via Zoom which was a really great overview and introduction to the day - itinerary, what to bring/what not to bring, what to expect with security, timings etc etc. It was a good preparation for the day, and safeguarding felt really thorough. There was no information overload either, and I didn’t feel daunted in the slightest - just really excited.

We met in Cambridge at 6am, and I was buzzing to be doing something so out of ordinary for a Thursday. The group was a mix of ages, a couple of students, all really friendly and welcoming. We got a minibus to Whitemoor, and dropped off our bags in another visitor’s car. We met the prison chaplain who was just brilliant - enthusiastic, very hot on getting through security and the prison in an efficient, not-too-much-fuss way and it felt like the safety of the volunteers was her priority. 

After getting through security at around 8:30am (note for next time, don’t forget to take vaseline out of pocket!) we made our way through to the prison chapel, which was a really calm space. Residents came in and we did introductions and vocal warm-ups. At first, integrating felt a bit tricky - so it was good to sit with other volunteers and initiate conversations in little groups. We got started on learning four Christmas songs - (Jingle Bell Rock seemed to go down the best). What felt really inclusive was that with mixed levels of reading abilities, some participants were able to join in on percussion instruments that were already in the chapel - this was great. 

We had a few tea breaks and opportunities for chats with the Whitemoor participants - I had some really great conversations about residents’ education, any training or work they were doing, gym, routines and goals for 2024. The socialising element of it felt like a really important part of the day, and that had been emphasised in the briefing, so I made an effort to talk to as many different people as I could. With slightly trickier conversations, it was easy to steer it back to the workshop and music in general. 

After a long lunch and getting to know the other volunteers, participants came back in and we did a performance of all of the songs we had learned in front of an audience of other residents, prison officers and governors. We also sang a couple of carols together, listened to some readings and the opportunity to perform as a group felt like a great summary to the workshop. We ended the day with teas and mince pies - and it really was as though you could FEEL the positivity in the room. Every participant I asked said how much they had enjoyed it. 

The day ended at about 4:30pm, going back through security, back on the minibus and we were dropped off in Cambridge. The day felt surreal if I’m honest, but I was also feeling the benefits. Feeling and seeing the benefits of group music-making, not staring at a screen for a whole day and meeting new people were just a couple of the things I took from the day - I cannot wait to do another one, and am signed up for training on workshop leading in the new year. I’d recommend for anyone who is up for trying something different but wanting to partake in something truly amazing.

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Garold Rafa
Garold Rafa
May 17

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