HMP Woodhill, October 2018
On 2nd October 2018, we launched Sing Inside in Oxford. Maisie led a team of keen new volunteers raring to go into HMP Woodhill, where we conducted our first workshop including both prison residents and staff. Working with staff was a fantastic addition to the day, strengthening relationships inside prison walls as well as creating new ones with those from outside it. We had a wonderful day, creating a fantastic sound in a very short space of time, and building a strong sense of community spirit and commitment to a high quality concert of uplifting songs.
Bethy Reeves, the pianist for the day and a Music student at Oxford, reports below:
Our visit to HMP Woodhill was the first visit made by the Oxford Sing Inside team. All of the volunteers but two had never been into a prison before, but as soon as we met the staff and prisoners, we felt really at ease as we began to realise what a friendly and positive place Woodhill is. Before we started singing for the day, we got a chance to have tea and biscuits whilst chatting to all the prisoners and staff who had signed up to the workshop, learning about all the activities they get up to on a day-to-day basis. It was really interesting to learn about the activities they took part in, with most of the prisoners we met having chosen gardening as their area of work (which included feeding birds of prey every morning, two of which were owls played Hedwig in the Harry Potter films!). We then went into their beautiful chapel, where we began with a warm up. Although everyone from Woodhill who came to the workshop said that they had never sang before, they all were really keen to get involved and were very enthusiastic from the start. After singing various rounds and playing a number of warm-up games, we began learning some songs. We sang songs on the theme of sunshine, including “Here comes the sun”, “Summertime”, “What a wonderful world”, and “Walking on sunshine”. We even managed to add in some harmony parts to some of the songs! We were then treated to a lovely curry cooked by some of the men on the catering course there, after which one of the prisoners who was taking part in the workshop gave us all a quick dancing lesson teaching us his cool dance moves - it’s safe to say that he was much better than all of us at it! After lunch and some more rehearsal time, we performed in a short performance. The concert we gave was a combined concert with a local gospel group, “Faith Dimensions”, and was part of the celebrations of Black History Month. One of the prison staff gave an inspiring speech on Black History Month to open the concert, and then we got a chance to listen to the amazing gospel singers, singing a number of beautiful spirituals. We then sang our songs to the audience, and our chosen theme of sunshine was really reflected in the faces of all the performers and audience members! Those who seemed slightly less confident with singing towards the beginning of the workshop grew hugely in confidence throughout the day, and they all enjoyed performing in front of their friends in the concert we gave to finish of the day. At the end they all seemed really proud, and all said how much they had enjoyed learning something new and out of their comfort zone. We had a really amazing day making new friends and singing together, and it was really sad to leave at the end of the day - we just wanted to learn more songs together and chat more! - but we hope to return to Woodhill at Christmas to sing some Christmas songs and carols together!