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DMU helps stage biggest-ever arts festival in prisons


In a time of a global pandemic, when all theatres and entertainment venues have been locked down, the biggest and possibly only arts festival ever staged for England’s prisons is being launched this weekend.

Arts professionals, former and current residents of HMPs in England, and students and staff from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) are involved in the eight-week series, called Talent Unlocked. It will be screened by Wayout TV in 50 prisons in England, aiming to reach potentially 37,000 residents.

It will be the fourth year, that DMU has run the Talent Unlocked festival, but the first time that it has been done on such a big scale.

Talent Unlocked prisons

Jacqui Norton, senior lecturer in Arts and Festivals Management at DMU, said she was very excited to be bringing the festival to such a large audience.

She added: “Since the launch, I have worked with HMP Leicester and also HMP Stafford on Talent Unlocked, but unfortunately, I knew that it would not be possible to present a face-2-face programme this year.  I was already working on a music industry project to be aired via Wayout TV, and Jezz approached me and offered the use of their platform so that we did not need to cancel the Festival. This has been a major project, one to be very proud of, which has received outstanding contributions from people both inside and outside of the wall.”

The programme includes a beat- boxing workshop, poetry, drama, music and artwork from current HMP residents. All arts practitioners and organisations have given their time in-kind for this project.

Four DMU Arts and Festivals Management students are performing a play written by a resident, while Jacqui, has led some “in conversations” discussing the power and the importance of offering arts behind bars.

The eight-week series goes live from Sunday December 13 and will run every Sunday with the final episode aired on 31 January.

Jezz Wright, Head of Digital Learning and Strategy: PeoplePlus/Wayout TV, said: "PeoplePlus and Wayout TV are proud to support Talent Unlocked and facilitate a platform to showcase the many individuals who champion the arts within our prison establishments.

"Creative activities can greatly enable the confidence and rehabilitation of prisoners whilst completing their sentence and Wayout TV is delighted to be the chosen broadcast partner for this unique festival of programmes."

Talent Unlocked began in 2017 as a two-week festival inside HMP Leicester as part of a partnership between the prison and University and has since extended to HMP Stafford and HMP Hewell.

inset choir nick
DMU Gospel Choir has performed for the men at HMP Leicester

Ralph Lubkowski previous Governor at HMP Stafford and now at HMP Hewell said: “Since Talent Unlocked began 4 years ago I’ve seen the impact that a sustained programme of creative arts, built around the concept of a two-week Arts Festival, can have in 3 very different prisons.

“The arts allow those in our care to express themselves, to learn new skills and rediscover forgotten talents, and to build positive new identities and hope for a better future that make it less likely they will reoffend. Talent Unlocked also connects prisoners with their communities by bringing performers and audiences into prison, builds family ties through the sharing of experiences, and perhaps most importantly it brings people together, raises morale, and breaks down barriers which has a positive effect on relationships, and therefore safety and decency, within our prisons.

“This has never been more important than the past 8 months as we grapple with the pandemic, and I’m incredibly proud of everyone involved in making Talent Unlocked 2020 a reality despite all of those challenges.”

Posted on Friday 11th December 2020

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