Story tour in prisons wins praise

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A project encouraging male prisoners to read with their children has been applauded by Ofsted for its contribution to family learning.

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The Booktrust Stories Tour visited community centres and prisons

The Booktrust Stories Tour, which took a live literature show into prisons for prisoners to enjoy with their children, has been named a model of good practice by the regulator.

Ofsted also called the Stories Tour prisons programme, which was run by Booktrust alongside Arts Council England and Pact, a charity supporting prisoners and their families, an ‘innovative and beneficial family learning programme’.

Stories Tour family days have been held in eight prisons across England, with prisoners attending a morning workshop to help them prepare for afternoon sessions with their young children, grandchildren or siblings.

The afternoon activity involved Stories Tour actors presenting a story in a play format, inviting participation from the children and their parents in related games.

Prisoners helped to compile personalised gift packs of books for the children, with each pack, including tips on storytelling and story-themed games and puzzles.

The Stories Tour held prison visits at Pentonville, Isis, Featherstone, Oakwood, Birmingham, Leeds, Cardiff and Holme House prisons, with 645 people attending the 17 events held in total.

The prison days were organised as part of a wider Booktrust programme, which also visited libraries and community centres, to encourage storytelling in families that do not readily engage with the arts.

The six-month long project was aimed at three- to six-year-olds in ten target areas (three London boroughs, three areas in the West Midlands, Bradford, Kirklees, Middlesbrough and Cardiff) and four target communities (Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Urdu and Somali).

The tour aimed to encourage adults to routinely share stories and read with their children to help strengthen family bonds and to share the educational experience. A Ministry of Justice study from 2012 found that 40 per cent of prisoners stated that support from their family and seeing their children (36 per cent), would help them stop reoffending in the future.

Booktrust chief executive officer Viv Bird said, ‘Working with Pact meant we could reach men in prisons, helping them share the joy of stories with their families and create a special and memorable event that would strengthen family ties – something that is known to reduce reoffending.

‘We are very aware of the benefits to children and adults of sharing stories together and with the help of Pact we managed to engage families who may not traditionally access live literature nor have the opportunity for relaxed and fun storytelling adventures. These visits were clearly very special for both the children and their dads.’

Kids VIP programmes manager at Pact, Joanne Stewart-Nash, added, ‘The key was to get the prison officers involved in the Stories Tour itself. They could then see the true value of the prisoners engaging with their children and learning alongside them. We promoted the idea to the prison staff as an intervention that could be put on a prisoner’s sentence plan.’