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BARRY DONOVAN (HMP Isle of Wight – Parkhurst)

BARRY DONOVAN (HMP Isle of Wight – Parkhurst)

AWARD WINNER 2012-13: Barry is an Officer at Parkhurst, Isle of Wight. In addition to working full time on a residential unit, Barry is the driving force behind the “Leopard Studio” music recording workshop in the prison. Barry had the idea for the studio, raised the money for it, developed an accredited training course to help ensure that the prisoners involved learn and can demonstrate practical work-related skills, and continues to dedicate much of his own time to the project. (Barry is also awarded the “Keith Bromley Award for Education & Skills Training” on behalf of the Bromley Trust).


[Barry Donovan gives his account of the work for which he won his Award]

Leopard Studios is a music studio located in Parkhurst prison that teaches prisoners sound and audio production skills. We Promote Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Re-employment whilst running at zero cost to the prison and helps local island musicians record live albums.

The studio started as a wing project, a prisoner and myself were talking about the prison not offering any musical incentives for the style of music he liked to perform, we both agreed to look into it and see what we could do. We found a small empty room on the wing and we got permission for prisoners to play their instruments and use their mixing equipment as the cells are a bit small for 3 or 4 guys wanting to work together, very quickly we realised the potential and looked to create a purpose built music studio, however I told my prisoners that if they wanted to make it work, not to expect any money from the prison and we would have to find funding.

From the first conversations we had 3 and a half years back and a few location moves, the funding that myself and the prisoners raised have paid for a studio that is approximately 30ft long by 12ft wide. The room is split into 3 sections, the live room is where all the recording is done, the room is 8ft long and 12ft wide and is accessed by an external door, the room has lots of acoustic foam placed around the walls to get the best possible sound quality we can when recording instruments or vocals, inside the room is a drum kit, 6 guitars, 10 microphones and 2 speakers, the room has a big window in the middle so you can see into the control room.

The control room is the middle section of the 3 divides, it is also 8ft long and 12ft wide, the back wall is around 9ft long which leaves a 3ft gap to enter the control room, we cannot have a door as it breaches fire and safety guidelines. The control room also has a lot of acoustic foam on the walls to help the studio engineers listen to the tracks in a treated room and improve the quality of any track that has been produced. In the control room we have a PC, this computer is connected to a mixing desk that is about 2ft square, the mixing desk is connected to the speakers, musical keyboards, headphone and all the leads for the microphone come from the mixing desk and through a small hole in the bottom of the wall and passed into the live room. In the control room there is 4 comfy chairs so anyone using the studio can sit in comfort.

Lastly we have the education zone, it is 14ft long and 12ft wide, this area has 3 computers which wing based prisoners can use during association periods, during the working day they are used to help deliver the course ‘sound and audio production level 1’ this qualification was written by myself and the prison who helped set up the studio with me, we also have books that will help with the course which we will get out during the day.

All 3 sections of the room have their own window and blinds, the room is painted purple with yellow musical lines, we also have our logo painted on the wall in the education zone so it’s the first thing you see when you walk in. The studio is manned by prisoners and not staff, I employ a team of 4 prisoners and 1 studio manager, the manager reports to me a few times a week, my role is the overall ‘owner’ of the studio and I take the lead booking of prisoners to use the studio, any prisoner wanting to use the studio for recording or to do the course applies via a wing application to me, I then will look into the prisoners behaviour and general conduct before inviting them to use the studio, if their behaviour is not acceptable I will go see them and let them know what they need to do if they want to come and use the facilities.

The studio gives prisoners and prison staff the chance to work cohesively. This breaks down many barriers that are naturally in place.

We start with Rehabilitation, this will enable the prisoners to look at their life and set the goals they wish to achieve, we can start with prison behaviour and conduct whilst writing business plans for the future.

Then we have Reintegration, this can be anything from release back into society to moving to another prison.

Helping the prisoners learn the skills required within studio settings and gaining the qualifications we offer will help them within the future, having a business plan in place will help them focus on achieving their personal goals.

Lastly we have Re-Employment, once prisoners have been released they can start looking for work using the skills and qualifications they have learned and perfected whilst working at Leopard Studios.


[The following article appeared in issue 5 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]

Creating inspirational music studios within HMP Isle of Wight earned Barry Donovan his Butler Trust Award. Starting with converting an old education room into a venue for prisoners to share their love and talent for playing music, Barry pursued the venture with ‘outstanding’ dedication, according to his department head, and the push to achieve his aim ‘soon became a tidal wave of creative thinking and passion.’

Not from a musical background himself, Barry’s great strength was in recognising that this could be an area where there was enormous potential for development and achievement. What began as a music sharing venue soon became a fully functioning music studio, The Leopard Studio, where prisoners could record their own music, or that of others, to a professional standard. Working largely in his own time, so as not to compromise his duties as a residential offer, Barry has used his passion, enthusiasm and vision to make the venture happen. He arranged for a computer with appropriate security settings, involved prisoners in bidding successfully for finance, then as the project got off the ground, he organised a series of visits that galvanised the operation, starting with one from a local music studio – which led to software being created that would teach skills required in the music industry.

The benefits to prisoners have gone beyond enjoying the creativity, helping them to learn new skills as well as improve relationships with their families through sending them their original music. Working with a local musician and others in the community, inmates learned to mix and record music, and produce graphics for the sleeves – all to a professional standard.

Inspired further by the progress of participants, Barry produced a business plan that led to the creation of an Education Zone within the studio, using interactive software to produce a teaching course that achieved Open College Network accreditation. Prisoners are now able to achieve accreditation and further their development, while their skills are giving them new aspirations and motivation to improve their prospects.

Many prisoners have now benefited from the studio, using it as an important part of their rehabilitation.

‘With this project, prisoners are able to gain skills that will help them upon release,’ said one. ‘If it wasn’t for Barry’s enthusiasm, hard work and effort, his project would still be a dream. I can’t put into words how much closer I am to my biggest life goal because of Mr Donovan, but will say that he has to be one of the most positive influences I’ve ever had.’

Governor at HMP Isle of Wight, James Shanley said that Barry was spoken about by offenders all over the prison.

‘He has provided a sense of purpose for many of the men in his care – they have achieved for the first time as an adult,’ he said. ‘They have skills that they can use outside to gain employment or become selfemployed. It is a modern workshop and has modern ideas – and Barry has made it all happen.’

Barry hopes that the initiative will give prisoners better prospects and knowledge, so they will not return to crime.

‘I like to show prisoners that crime is not the only option,’ he says.

For more information: contact HMP Isle of Wight

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