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New art display expresses thoughts of life beyond prison

22 Apr 22

A new exhibition showcasing in part the artwork of ex-offenders expressing their views on being released from prison starts at a Hertfordshire museum from this Friday (22 April).

Inside Outside is a joint project run between Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust and the Probation Service and will be running at the St Albans Museum + Gallery until September.

The work is being displayed in a holding cell in the basement of the Georgian Grade II building which used to be a Courthouse and Town Hall before being renovated to a state-of-the-art gallery space.

The project, funded by the Covid Recovery Fund, was commissioned by Trust Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Dr Jayne Henry, with workshops delivered by the Probation Service’s Offender Personality Disorder Pathway Team and well-being practitioner and artist Rachel Oxborough, founder of the ColourMein Creative Wellbeing project.

The aim was to deliver workshops for both the probation teams and service users across the county to explore well-being, coping strategies and re-integration into society, while increasing awareness in society of the needs of people on probation and the role of the probation service.

They explored the work of Vincent Van Gogh and his own journey with mental health – including his experience of being in an institution - to create a connection between individuals and their art.

Participants also expressed their thoughts through painting the iconic London Brick - something service users could relate to through their experiences of being in prison - on ‘the inside’ - and transitioning to the outside world.

Some of the work is inspired by the charity Art Refuge which helps refugees who, having experienced displacement, use the concept of bricks to represent rebuilding, much like people on probation who often find that they must rebuild their lives.

Dr Henry said: “It can be very difficult for some people to describe how they feel verbally and art is an excellent opportunity to do that without having to commit yourself to words.

“Some also find it difficult to fit in socially and find themselves socially excluded. These workshops have been an inclusive, group activity which have helped build confidence and have enabled them to share their experiences and which helps give them a sense of achievement.”

Rachel said: “Those who have been in prison and are now on probation may feel like the forgotten people and these workshops were an opportunity for them to express themselves creatively through various art forms.   One of the probationers enjoyed building a wall. It became incredibly precious to him and he is delighted to have this as part of the exhibition.

“I also saw first-hand the care, commitment and compassion of these probation practitioners. They are an inspiration to me in showing what it is to be a professional when working with people that society has often forgotten, discarded and misunderstood.”

Sarah Keeling, Curator at St Albans Museum + Gallery,  said: “Almost 60 years after our subterranean cells were last used to house prisoners, we are proud to be working with the project to promote the importance of art in giving ex-offenders a creative voice. We hope that by visiting the collection in our cells, people can better imagine and understand the challenges.”

Neeve Bishop, Head of Hertfordshire Probation Delivery Unit, said: “The Inside Outside project has created a unique opportunity for probation workers and probation service users to come together through this insightful and thought-provoking activity. There is tremendous value in personal expression through art and creativity: breaking down barriers as we unify in shared acknowledgment of our individual vulnerabilities and unfettered human potential.”

A second project, called Nature Connections in collaboration with Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, has also started for service users to experience nature and wildlife and the positive impact on well-being this can provide. 

St Albans Museum + Gallery, St Peter’s Street, St Albans, AL1 3DH, is open Monday to Sunday from 11am-5pm. Admission is free.

For more information about the Inside Outside exhibition, please click here


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