Charity Awards 2024

LUNG Productions

Using theatre to tackle the shocking suicide rate in UK prisons

There is one prison suicide every three days in England and Wales, and HMP Woodhill had more than any other, with 33 people taking their lives there.

Lung ProductionsLUNG Productions is a Yorkshire-based campaigning arts charity that wanted to shine a light on the problem and try to tackle it. After consulting with experts including the former chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, the charity launched ‘Woodhill’, its most ambitious campaign to date, which involved three strands of work.

The first was a documentary play co-written and produced by relatives of those who had lost a loved one at the prison to suicide. The show toured to 3,573 people across the country and used storytelling to raise awareness and mobilise audiences to campaign for penal reform, by signing the No More Deaths petition launched by INQUEST, and a letter to the justice secretary. It is due to be shown at the United Nations this year and the play is now published by Faber & Faber, reaching 100,000 readers across the world.

In partnership with the University of Nottingham, the families also co-created training videos which were screened to more than 500 decision-makers, such as the UN special rapporteur on prisons, with a view to rolling them out to prison staff nationally.

And lastly, the families presented a policy brief to 76 parliamentarians containing tangible reforms to make prisons safer.

The project, which cost £140,000, used a theory of change to set target outcomes and academic research to track progress.

The project forged enduring bonds between participants. The families, who had never met before, took part in 21 sessions each lasting six hours, and 150+ hours of interviews to build the content of the script. All had access to a registered therapist to support them in processing residual trauma.

‘Woodhill’ received critical acclaim and prompted meetings with MPs who went on to submit parliamentary questions, helped to persuade the Ministry of Justice to share the training videos with 50,000 prison staff, and convinced HMP Woodhill to repair their broken phones.

At the height of the media coverage of ‘Woodhill’, the Chief Inspectorate of Prisons ordered an unannounced, on the spot investigation of the prison. It was found to be failing and served with an urgent notification. Prisoners are currently being transferred out of the prison and an action plan is being implemented to make HMP Woodhill safer.

In 2025, the play will tour to 18 cities across the UK, reaching 10,000 more people.

Charity Awards judge Anne Fox, chief executive of Clinks, noted that arts in the justice system is underfunded and undervalued, and it is very difficult to achieve cut-through with the current government. She pointed out that books and guitars were banned in prisons a few years ago, so LUNG fully deserved recognition for the campaign’s achievements.

Judge Daniel Chan, senior manager at PwC, added that the quality of the documentary play was clearly very high, receiving five stars from several critics, and the wider impact of the campaign on such an important issue made it stand out.

CC Reg no. 1187346

Supporter and Arts, Culture and Heritage Category Sponsor: