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STUART HALL (HMP Lowdham Grange)

STUART HALL (HMP Lowdham Grange)

Stuart Hall (HMP Lowdham Grange)

COMMENDEE 2014-15: Stuart receives a Commendation for developing a media and communications qualification for prisoners at HMP Lowdham Grange, along with a TV channel, Inside TV, which broadcasts to every cell, throughout the day.

StuartHallStuart Hall, who works as the Inside TV Coordinator for Serco at HMP Lowdham Grange, took a brief to produce a media and communications qualification for prisoners and pushed the envelope to such an extent that the prison now has its own TV station, producing programming, 24/7, made by prisoners for prisoners.

Within six months of starting in December 2012, Stuart had engaged over 50 prisoners to help Inside TV broadcast to each cell, as well as employing four prisoners as Broadcast Assistants to help run the station.

The standard is highly professional, with the team writing, creating, and filming 90% of the channel’s output. Inside TV has now produced over 70 programmes, across a wide range of prisoner-driven subjects that are nonetheless aligned with wider Ministry of Justice aims supporting rehabilitation and reduced reoffending.

In a Category B prison, with the average offender facing a further 5 to 10 years inside, Stuart was keen to provide an impact that could really last in prisoners’ lives. But there were, of course, barriers to breach, especially security concerns involving issues like new prisoners using high-tech equipment and protocols for filming around the prison. This was dealt with in a typically professional way: the prisoners themselves had to put together pitches for the security team, just as they might if they were working for broadcast media outside.

Only one proposal has been rejected so far. Originally the programme was going to focus on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a member of staff and after this knockback, the prisoner who had championed the idea was disheartened. Stuart worked with him to reconfigure the story, keeping the initial idea by the prisoner at the heart of a new film, A Road To Help. This concerned an ex-forces operative in prison and suffering from PTSD, and has proved one of the most popular dramas on Inside TV. It’s now being widely used by the veterans in custody team, and led to a personal visit by security for the prisoner whose concept it was – to commend him for turning the situation around.

The sheer range of programming is impressive. As well as dramas and a prison-based soap, there are profiles of staff members, documentaries, regime public announcements, cookery and music programmes.

The music element has in turn spun off into a second project, Inside Music, while another initiative, Storytime Dad’s, is a chance for prisoners to be filmed reading a children’s book (with a puppet and professional graphics), with the DVD sent to their children.

Because Stuart set – and needed – a high professional standard to deliver the station, he create a detailed 15 week course, which broke down the elements of broadcast media. These included a very interesting and productive focus on why communication is, in and of itself, so important. Insights ranged from prisoners discovering, by being on camera, that they presented much more aggressively than they intended, to exploring the problems of communicating well. The course is combined with an NCFE qualification in Moving Image Production.

Programming, driven by prisoners, has tackled sometimes surprising subjects including television about ‘missed opportunities’, money advice, job opportunities and record-breaking gym achievements.

Trish Mitchell, Contract Director at HMP Lowdham Grange, says of Stuart that “the truly innovative way in which he approaches each and every aspect shows his commitment and dedication to helping prisoners address their offending. The work he does with prisoners every day not only inspires them to gain real life skills but also helps them to think about their offences in a very different way.”

One recent film, shot inside the prison and with external sequences involving professional local actresses, cut to the heart of this point by examining the impact on a victim and, adds Trish, “clearly shows me that this work is important for reducing reoffending.”

As well as encouraging prisoners to create work that they’re passionate about and to develop new skills, Stuart sees a further critical benefit in his work: engaging offenders to think much more widely and deeply about how communication works – including their own.

“My aims are simple,” he says, “and they are to instil in prisoners the benefit of effective communication, to help them in their thought process, which takes them through a project from start to finish and to ultimately give them a platform in which to express themselves.”


[Stuart Hall gives his account of the work for which he won his Commendation]

Inside Media is an innovative, vibrant work and training opportunity based at HMP Lowdham Grange. Using communication as a cornerstone, Inside Media trains serving prisoners in digital media techniques, enabling them to produce and manage the UK’s first prison TV Channel.

Effective communication is the bedrock on which a modern society is built. Social Media, Smart TV’s and the unstoppable expansion of the internet has now penetrated all aspects of our daily lives. From toddlers barely agile enough to stand up to the silver surfers at the opposite end of the spectrum, the digital age has penetrated the lives of everyone, that is unless you are detained at her majesties pleasure.

In 2012 I found myself in an interesting position. I was offered the opportunity to take some of the skills I had learned in the UK broadcasting sector into a Category B male prison. Initially the education department at Lowdham Grange in Nottinghamshire had toyed with the idea of running some kind of video production qualification to compliment it’s Storytime Dad’s provision (Storytime Dad’s is an initiative that encourages father’s in prison to record a DVD, reading a bedtime story to their children back home).

Within a month of accepting this new challenge it had become obvious that merely teaching media techniques to prisoners that still had in excess of five years to run on their sentences was both counter-productive and naïve. The first thing that became obvious was there was a communication problem in the establishment, for instance a change in the regime meant putting a thousand notices under a thousand cell doors informing prisoners of the changes. This highlighted that there was not only an education opportunity at Lowdham Grange but also potential employment for the prisoners.

The first step of what was to become Inside Media was to develop the education side as per the original brief. I identified the NCFE in Moving Image production as the best fit for the population and set out to mould it to the establishments needs. This meant, maintaining education numbers, meeting the needs of the individual prisoner and trying to integrate the seven pathways to rehabilitation into the core teaching.

To achieve this I developed a 15 weeks course that broke down how television is made, how we communicate, what positive and negative messages we give off and also the practical hands on side to producing TV programs. This was packaged with video learning tutorials, handouts, group discussions and peer mentoring, meaning that whatever learning style or age range we got coming through the door would be catered for. Even with several years of experience the immediate effects where overwhelming comments like those below were commonplace.

“Gov, why do I look so aggressive on camera?”
“Is that how I sound to others?”
“Two weeks ago you would never have got my mug on that camera”

The experience was linked as closely to the real world as prison life would allow. Learners had to pitch all ideas to the group, accept sometimes harsh feedback and learn to overcome obstacles as they arose.

The process of linking Inside Media with the rest of the establishment soon became organic. The quality of the work being produced was very high, the varied themes lending themselves easily to topics of redemption, rehabilitation and survival. The obvious next stage was to build a platform that could showcase the work produced on the course to the rest of the population.

Inside TV was created to enable the prisoners to have a platform to express themselves, for the regime to have instant access to its 900 strong population and for Inside Media to broadcast helpful films about coping on release, budgeting and keeping strong family ties. The channel operated in exactly the same way as traditional television, carrying adverts, stings, trailers and programs, directly into the cells 24/7. Staffing this embryonic channel was the next evolution. Posts were created for Broadcast Assistants. The BA’s would run the channel, make programs and act as peer mentors on the course, meaning there was a direct pathway between the course delivery and gaining employment. An older prisoner came on the course, stating…

“I just came down Guv to see what it was all about I won’t be staying long”

Six months later the prisoner in question had produced a film title ‘A chinwag with God’, had passed all four units of the qualification and had improved his confidence enough to get a job in the prison’s business enterprise unit, at the end of the course he commented…

“I have never done anything like this in my life. I came down determined not to like it, so I could scurry off back to my pad but it gets a hold of you I have never had so much fun….well not legally anyway”

Inside Media has been running now for just over two years we have worked with over sixty long term offenders, forty eight of which have achieved a full media qualification. The Inside TV channel is regularly watched by Lowdham’s 900+ inmates and is now available in staff areas as well.

Over one hundred original and thought provoking programs have been produced exclusively for Inside TV four of which were awarded Bronze, Silver and Gold awards at the Koestler’s as well as a prize for the best newcomer.

I have seen the positive effects this has had on the prisoners. They are taking pride in their work are excelling at helping others and honestly admit to being better able to communicate with others. The effects for me both personally and professionally have been far reaching. On a personal level the achievements of my team and my learners is a sense of pride for me and professionally my department was awarded a Serco local pulse award, followed by a global Pulse award and the cherry on the cake was receiving a Butler Trust Commendation from The Princess Royal, Princess Anne.

The success of a project like Inside Media relies heavily on the experience and creativity of the team, the buy in from both the management and the prisoners and the resilience and belief to focus on the vision. From the outset, I surrounded myself with a team that understood the fundamental need for better communication and had what we call “Jail Craft” As a first timer in the prison system, surrounding yourself with people who know how prisoners tick, and how to engage on a one to one level is really important as is the buy in from management. Very early on I sat down with the Senior Management Team and laid out my vision for Inside Media. The residential team took to it favourably because they could see better communication between staff and prisoners could lighten their loads. Education saw it as a way to increase the provision and help toward their key performance targets and the Senior Managers saw it as another unique service both in education terms and employment terms. The stumbling block was the security department.

“There is no way you are having prisoners running around with cameras in my prison”

Creating a real world environment for the prisoners on the course was always a priority and filming around the prison was a big part of that and the statement above came as a bit of a blow. The first part of overcoming this was to ask some questions as to why this was a bad idea. After many meetings it came down to.

  • Prisoners in unauthorised areas
  • The filming of keys and locks
  • The misuse of portable recording equipment
  • Editing footage that could be smuggled out
  • Filming subjects that could bring the prison into disrepute

This setback turned out to be a minor one. As part of the course the prisoners already produced a pitch for their project. We just added to the pitch a filming request form, a kit inventory form and a personal contribution form which stated exactly what prisoners were required for the project. We also agreed that all footage filmed would be watched by a member of staff prior to being released to the prisoners and that all external media ports on the Mac’s would be disabled therefore stopping footage being taken out of the unit. With these new rules in place and an agreement that we wouldn’t proceed with the filming until each pitch had been read by security, the security ban was lifted and I am pleased to say that in two years we have had only one project turned down. This was a film about a PCO suffering from PTSD. Security was nervous about the focus being on a prison officer so the project was turned down. Although demotivated temporarily the prisoner, with the help and support of the staff team, re-wrote the piece turning the spotlight onto a new arrival in the prison. The film “A road to Help” went onto win a best newcomer award at the Koestler’s.

Initially the best practice aims for Inside Media were to improve communication and provide purposeful activity to the prison population. This was achieved by tailoring a qualification to our needs and launching the Inside TV channel. We improved on that by setting real world environments, where learners could hone their skills using up to date technology and tailored learning materials. Increased management buy in meant that in 2014 we could move into bigger purpose built accommodation, which included a music studio, allowing us to extend the inside media family to include Inside Music. This also meant we could return to one of the original goals and bring Storytime Dad’s into the mix. The new studios enabled us to increase the Storytime numbers enabling more prisoners to reach out to their children. One of the most fundamental areas of growth is the commissioning of work for external clients, so for the first time, Inside Media Broadcast Assistants can now work on commercial jobs, therefore increasing their knowledge base and adding valuable experience to their CV’s.

The next stage is to start to quantify all of the data from the past two years. A recent Ofsted inspection raised the comment.

“This project in itself would be seen as an example of best practice if the data was in place to back it up”

So with that statement Inside Media has been given a very clear goal to help it onto its next level of progression.

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