March 25, 2024

From tiny seeds - celebrating 20 years of 'education by stealth' by CPT award holder, Storybook Dads

Storybook Dads, a multi-award-winning charity that records prisoners reading stories then sends the recordings to their children, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It was a large grant award holder of CPT back in 2014.

A project that began in Dartmoor Prison in 2003 has expanded to include most prisons around the UK, including women’s prisons.

Now headquartered in HMP Dartmoor, Devon, Storybook Dads and Storybook Mums helps poor and non-readers to take part in the scheme, and trains prisoners to be audio and video editors. Participants in the scheme have often gone on to explore other learning opportunities, such as parenting, IT and literacy courses while in prison.

The charity, a Charles Plater Trust grant recipient, calls this “education by stealth”.

Since 2003, the charity has trained more than 800 prisoners to edit audio and video, and 40 member prisons now offer video as well as audio. The charity has also employed 25 former prisoners as editors following their release.

For some prisoners, reading aloud and being videoed can be a daunting and emotional experience, which the charity addresses by finding safe, quiet spaces in which to record and using puppets to create a relaxed, informal atmosphere.

Such has been the success of the scheme that the UK’s Army, Navy and Royal Air Force have adopted the model to enable serving personnel to remain connected to their families. And other countries, such as US, Poland, Portugal, Pakistan and Australia, have come on board. A simple idea has gone global.

Getting creative

The charity, which is run by a handful of dedicated staff, volunteers and trustees, has expanded the concept to include art activities, with several artists and children’s authors running workshops on how to create personalised gifts to send to the children. In collaboration with the British Library, an artist has visited several prisons teaching prisoners how to make pop-up books.

Other creative projects include personalised calendars, comics, height charts, Christmas tree decorations and ‘Swaps’ – identical activity sheets completed by the prisoners and their children which they then swap to understand each other’s hopes, likes, ideas and hobbies.

Such activities help prisoners learn IT skills, express themselves creatively, strengthen familial bonds, and improve prisoner self-esteem. The charity says 84% of prisoners think the project reduces their likelihood of reoffending and 98% of families say it improves the relationship between the child and absent parent.

The Charles Plater Trust has been proud to support Storybook Dads over the years, granting £40,000 in support funding.