Covid-19 has had a huge impact on voluntary sector organisations working in criminal justice. They’ve faced significant pressures and had to make difficult choices, but have also shown incredible resilience and flexibility.
During the pandemic, Clinks has been collecting information about how voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system in England and Wales have been faring, and as a result of our research we produced an in-depth report exploring how the pandemic has impacted the services being delivered; people in the criminal justice system; staff and volunteers; and funding and financial sustainability.
This blog highlights the journey Good Vibrations went through during the pandemic and how it adapted to the changing restrictions.
Good Vibrations is a charity that uses communal music-making to change lives, working with people in secure settings and marginalised people in the community.
How did Covid-19 impact Good Vibrations?
When the lockdown was first announced in March, we had to make the heart breaking decision to stop frontline delivery in order to protect participants and team members. But we used that time as an opportunity to unlock our creativity. We worked with participants, our team and supporters to create innovative, thought-provoking and entertaining alternatives, to help people stay well and be creative, and to keep connected with the communities we support. We produced online activities and workshops as well as an array of films, podcasts, blogs and radio broadcasts.
We are best known for using the Indonesian gamelan – an orchestra of gongs, metallophones and drums. During the lockdowns we wanted to keep communal music-making at the heart of what we do. We also wanted to encourage people who don’t have access to instruments at home to get involved with music-making. So we invited our team and past participants to explore a range of imaginative ways to do both, and turned their creations into videos to inspire others.
We were amazed by the response. We had videos on how to create makeshift gamelans out of kitchen items, a series of short videos with music and images as a springboard for others to respond creatively, a game of musical consequences, songs, videos and poetry inspired by lockdown and by gamelan, and an extraordinary online gamelan playground. Someone even created a gamelan orchestra made out of vegetables.
With people in prison confined in their cells for over 23 hours a day we were acutely aware of how crucial our work was to support people through this isolation. Reaching people in prisons was undoubtedly challenging, not least because of the additional digital barriers and challenges of getting creative materials into prison. However, we were able to send in letters and resources and use prison radio to broadcast programmes. We also continued to support past participants convicted of offences through volunteering posts and paid work opportunities.
How did this change over the course of the pandemic? Were you able to restart services in person?
In July last year - with social distancing and other safety measures in place - we were able to re-introduce some face-to-face work on a small scale in HMP Wormwood Scrubs, Bethlem Royal Hospital and Nottingham’s Middle Street Resource Centre. We were delighted to be able to hold a small weekly group gamelan session at HMP Wormwood Scrubs’ Inpatient Unit. It was one of the first activities to restart at this prison.
These sessions provided a space for participants to chat and open up about their lives as well as allowing them to explore their creativity and make music together. Our facilitators saw how participants started to relax and smile more because of the sessions. We are confident that restarting them brought considerable benefits to people’s mental health and supported them to persevere with overcoming the challenges they were facing.
What has the latest lockdown meant for you?
Sadly, given the latest national lockdown and all prisons reverting back to more severe restrictions, we have had to pause much of the face-to-face work that we were beginning to reintroduce. It was really disappointing for our team, especially after seeing the difference it was making to participants. However, we have adapted again, and wherever partners can support this, we are now offering adapted online workshops in place of the originally planned courses.
Given the uncertainty around the pandemic, it’s difficult for us to know when we can reintroduce face-to-face work in prisons again. This makes it challenging to plan ahead. Whilst at times that can be disheartening, we are inspired and encouraged by the flood of creativity we’ve seen over the course of the pandemic and by the national vaccination programme, which will hopefully lead us on a path to being able to work with people in prisons again.
Even when it’s not in-person, our music and creative work has continued to be so important for supporting people to cope, reflect, learn and connect through this time. We’ve learnt how to adapt our services and reach out to even more people. We are confident that, whatever happens, we can be flexible and responsive, stay connected with, and support people during this time.
Our passionate, highly experienced team are central to making our projects a life-changing experience. They are such a precious resource to Good Vibrations, so supporting them, as the pandemic stretches on, has been a huge priority for us. We rely on freelance facilitators, who are often struggling financially in the pandemic, so we have continued to provide paid work where we can and set up a Hardship Fund to help them. We’ve also established a new, much-needed programme of external supervision to support our team’s well-being.
Looking to the future: What’s on the horizon for Good Vibrations?
We’ve started to develop an exciting, brand new digital gamelan in partnership with Charles Matthews and the University of York. This will enable us to help even more people who can’t access a real gamelan (or people who are unsure about it) to experience this wonderful medium, make music and develop their creativity, as well as a range of other transferable skills. It will also allow us to stay connected with people who have taken part in our workshops and to develop a programme of longer-term, individualised support.
We have also taken this chance to reset our strategic plan for 2021-23. The direction of travel for us will remain similar - group music-making, gamelan and human connection will always be at the heart of what we do. But we have found that there is greater place for digital creative provision. As part of our new strategy we will build on the digital resources and activities we’ve developed during the pandemic and incorporate the best of them into our future services. This will enable us to offer even more opportunities to the communities we work with.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank our supporters. We couldn’t have done any of this work without the financial support, flexibility and compassion of our valued funders.
A case study of Good Vibrations' work during the pandemic was featured in our report on the impact of Covid-19 on the voluntary sector in criminal justice. Read it in full here.
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We are extremely disappointed that the JCVI advice on phase 2 of the COVID vaccination programme does not prioritise people in prison and those who work with them, including voluntary sector staff and volunteers https://gov.uk/government/publications/priority-groups-for-phase-2-of-the-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccination-programme-advice-from-the-jcvi/jcvi-interim-statement-on-phase-2-of-the-covid-19-vaccination-programme