One Spirit – Update July 2022

The pandemic restrictions that started in March 2020 affected some parts of One Spirit’s delivery more than others: project delivery in HMYOIs Feltham and Cookham Wood went on hold for over 12 months and the Mayor of London funded ‘YLF’ project, due to have started in HMP Aylesbury in late March 2020, had to be postponed.


However, work in Oakhill STC and mentoring in the community could continue due to the high demand and extremely vulnerable nature of the cohort. Additionally, young people being released from custody were still able to be referred to One Spirit on release and engage with us in the community and several boroughs’ YOT/S teams regularly met with their young people at the One Spirit premises in Brixton as council offices remained closed.


Lockdown then eased, but restrictions and unpredictability in the secure estates continued as staff shortages hit critical levels and the pandemic’s effect lingered with many staff being off sick. To some extent, these issues are still affecting the smooth running of prisons and YOIs, but since September 2021 One Spirit has returned to HMYOIs Feltham and Cookham Wood, delivering the project weekly; has continued to run in Oakhill STC uninterrupted; has begun the project at HMP Aylesbury that was postponed at the start of the pandemic and has delivered 2 short projects in HMP Woodhill.


Lockdown in prisons and YOIs continued long after restrictions were eased and eventually lifted in the community. Many of those serving sentences in custody were locked up for up to 23 hours per day. In the youth estate, ‘essential’ activities got young people out of their cells for a couple of hours a day from late summer 2020, but face to face delivery and mixing in education was still restricted for months longer. When the doors finally opened and young people in Feltham and Cookham Wood were allowed back in education a huge release of pressure inevitably occurred, manifesting in various ways, not all of them positive. Fortunately for One Spirit, the young people’s eagerness to get back into music sessions manifested in ferocious engagement. Working in smaller groups has allowed participants to get closer attention from One Spirit staff, energy levels have been consistently high and success stories, in terms of the impact that the project has had on young people, have been frequent. One young person remarked “Since you guys have been coming back in there’s just a buzz on the landing. Every man’s got their book out now and is writing bars in their cells”. It’s not uncommon to find highly talented and confident young men amongst this cohort, but since September it has perhaps been more impressive to see how many young people who have not engaged in any kind of music, and in some cases anything positive at all, have really opened up and found things out about themselves they didn’t know and done things, in many ways very well, which they have never done before. Teachers of other classes have noted how the project has improved young people’s behaviour and engagement in their classes; officers have noted that those involved with the project are often easier to manage, especially on days when they are due to attend One Spirit, and YOT/S teams have remarked that the sessions in the community are often the only activity that their young people will attend and engage in. Education Manager at Oakhill STC fed back:


“…. We have also seen an increase in the children’s focus and attendance in all aspects of their curriculum and the positive feelings they feel about themselves following a One Spirit session allows them to achieve more in lessons, resulting in an increase in successful qualifications for each child”.


One positive that seems to have come out of the pandemic and the restrictions applied, which saw many young people and adults locked up for up to 23 hours per day for over 12 months, is the boost it has given to the general discussion about wellbeing and mental health issues experienced by those in custody, as well as an increase in discussions around trauma-based approaches to working with this cohort. One Spirit’s participants have long been feeding back on how sessions, both in and out of custody, with One Spirit have helped them to ‘feel better’. Several young people have consistently called their One Spirit music sessions ‘therapy’ and more recently a young participant fed back “It’s mad, but every time I lie down to sleep and close my eyes, I just see violence, like all the things I’ve done and that have happened. I’m not serious about being a music artist, but doing this helps me to get a lot of stuff off my mind”. Ofsted have recently observed One Spirit’s sessions in both Oakhill STC and HMYOI Feltham, giving very positive feedback and noticing how the One Spirit method creates a classroom environment that fosters high engagement, trust and improved well-being amongst participants. One Ofsted inspector remarked:


 “In the HMDT Music session children write well-written, emotional songs that help them to express how they feel and to cope with their earlier traumatic experiences”.


Over the past 12 months the project has engaged over 180 participants in custody and 41

‘through the gate’ in the community. Activities have ranged from song/lyric writing and recording, music technology (composition, engineering and mixing music), music business study and developing entrepreneurial skills, personal skills development (preparing for employment, personal finance and other) and the crucial peripheral activities such as drama games, general group discussion and warm up activities. The successful impact of the project is borne out through direct and anecdotal feedback from participants and the staff in custody (see above) as well as statistics collected, such as:


99% of participants said they had learned something new; 92% of participants declare an increase in self-confidence; 76% of participants said they feel better about the future;

64% said they feel they are better at taking criticism and 58% said they feel more motivated.


Of the participants that engage with One Spirit through the gate, post their release from custody, 93% have not reoffended in 6+ months since their release, 67% are in employment and 27% are in college/FE.


Over the next 12 months, in addition to continuing to serve the young people/adults in Oakhill STC, HMYOIs Feltham and Cookham Wood as well as those released from custody and resettling back in their communities, One Spirit will:


  • Initiate a ROTL provision (release on temporary licence), which allows eligible young people in custody the opportunity to be released during the day time to engage in activities in the community; this opportunity will serve the young people/adults in HMYOIs Cookham Wood and Feltham;
  • Continue the project at HMP Aylesbury, which was postponed in 2020;
  • Increase its presence in HMP Woodhill, where two pilot projects have led to the prison asking for a more consistent and regular provision.