“ …What’s really exciting about this to me is the idea of the community that is created inside prison being transferred to a community outside the prison. The important thing is that the people who have been released will – through music and singing – be joined together with members of the public, and other ex-prisoners, in an external community which helps them find their way back into society …..and in a way that is probably better then they ever had before. ” David Gilmour – Patron, Liberty Choir UK Lead singer and Guitarist, Pink Floyd
The Liberty Choir has proved over three years through its work in HMP Wandsworth the concept of running choirs in prisons is a successful way of reducing re-offending rates. The Choir expanded into a second prison in Autumn 2017 (HMP High Down) and plans to be in a total of eight by 2020.
Members of MJ Paranzino’s community choirs from South and West London, Brighton and Hastings volunteer each week to go into HMP Wandsworth and HMP High Down to form a choir with inmates in a non-judgemental environment. The choir sings from music sheets and has a wide repertoire from swing and gospel to pop and classical. The Musical Director also teaches music theory and notation, music history and civil rights history throughout.
The choir received seed funding from its Patron David Gilmour as well as other notable musicians and media figures. Up to 250 men have attended choir since its inception - 32 remain in touch outside prison, to date none of these 32 men have re-offended. Whilst this is a small sample Liberty Choir believes that the concept is now proven and the next stage should be to expand rapidly to other prisons. Expansion will allow the Choir to collect more robust data to show how its re-offending rates are considerably better than national norms.
Vision, mission and values
The Liberty Choir vision is that the reoffending rate among ex-offenders can be significantly reduced through a network of choirs located within prisons and the community. We believe that the economic and social case for the choirs is overwhelming. Our mission is that by 2020, the Liberty Choir will be delivered across eight prisons along with a ‘through the gate’ arts programme which will be recognised as a major factor in reducing reoffending. Liberty Choir believes that participation in music demonstrates to prisoners and ex-offenders the benefit of mutual trust and cooperation with their fellow citizens.
Trustees and Patrons
Our Trustees are Michael Gove, Environment Minister and Former Justice Minister and Chair of the Trustees, Paul Webster, Editor, The Observer, Mahnaz Malik, Human Rights Lawyer with 20 Essex Street Chambers and Sheila Jones, a psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapist. We have a team of Special Advisers including John Mulholland, Editor, US Guardian (former Trustee), Baroness Anna Healy, Labour Peer and prison reform specialist, David Wood, Senior Prison Officer and Ross Bell a former inmate and graduate of the fist Liberty Choir.
Our Patrons are David Gilmour, Lead singer and Guitarist, Pink Floyd and Cherie Blair QC, CBE.
“Liberty Choir has now entered its fifth year in the Trinity Wing of HMP Wandsworth and is considered one of the most successful volunteer programmes at the prison. We hosted a successful Family and Friends concert for the inmates this September and will be continuing to support the Liberty Choir programme. We recently launched a Liberty Choir prison staff choir and will be looking at ways of revisiting this in the autumn. I look forward to continuing our joint work for the benefit of staff and men here.” Jeanne Bryant – Governor HMP Wandsworth
“I go to both London choirs. I travel in from Kent and I work part time, six hours per day. I want to come 100%, even when I’m tired. It helps me cope with everything. I get a magic lift when I come to choir.”
“I’ve been in and out of prison all my life. I lost my mum and my wife so it’s very hard. I contemplated suicide and I have made attempts in the past. Choir gives me a purpose. It’s a circle of perpetual love and it requires a whole different way of thinking.”
“I attend both London choirs and if I could afford it I would go to the Brighton and Hastings choirs too. It gives me structure for myself, I wake up on Monday and a Tuesday and they are my best days because of choir. The connections you make are honest too. Through meeting someone here I now go to a gym twice a week so I have that and choir to cover four days. I must admit, I do have a couple of dark days in the week, that’s why it would help to be able to go to the other choirs but I can’t get funded.” “I have it in my diary, choir every Monday. I prefer to go to choir than watch a big game. It’s good to do different things. I like participating in all the festivals and other performances, like the Christmas carol singing, fundraising in the park, Brighton fringe, the community arts festival which was brilliant, the day just flew by.”