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Inspiring Futures


Inspiring Futures: The Story So Far

By Sarah Doxat-Pratt, Caroline Lanskey, Loraine Gelsthorpe.


Welcome to Inspiring Futures! The Inspiring Futures research project aims to investigate the role and meaning of the arts in criminal justice settings. More details about the project itself can be found on the website. This blog will be a space for updates about the project activities and emerging findings, and for members of the research team and guest authors to post about topics related to the arts in criminal justice.

As has been the case for so many of us, the global pandemic and attendant lockdowns have presented significant barriers to the running of Inspiring Futures. Our partner organisations who deliver arts projects have largely had their activities stopped; prisons have been closed to all visitors including researchers; staff have been furloughed. We are all aware of the challenges. But as work starts to pick up again, here is an opportunity to look back on what has happened since Inspiring Futures began.


Methods and Measures: Preparatory Focus Groups

An important feature of our research methodology is to include from the beginning the input of those with lived experience of the criminal justice system, and in particular those who have previously participated in arts projects. We ran focus groups and interviews in January-February 2020 with former and current participants, aiming to hear from them their experiences of arts programmes and how research could best capture the  role, meaning and impact of the arts in criminal justice.

Our partner organisations work with many different groups of people, and of course the views of  these groups at times varied a lot. Take, for example, our plans to develop an app as a data collection tool to use in the community (see below). Asking a group of young people on a music course how they felt about paper feedback forms elicited a unanimous, and emphatic, response of “Oh, we HATE doing them!” Their suggestions were to use voice notes or videos, tools which would enable them to speak rather than write their ideas. Given the Inspiring Futures app is intended to allow users to do just that, this feedback was good news, even if we knew it would be a while before the app was ready. But a group of women taking part in a community theatre project responded to the idea of an app with more trepidation and unease. Clearly, our data-collection methods need to be flexible.

They also need to be relevant. The quantitative part of our study requires using the same measures across all participants – different people, different art forms, in prisons and in community settings. Our focus groups helped us work out how to make our measures as relevant as possible in all these contexts, and how to word them so they could be of value to participants as a tool for personal reflection in its own right as well as an evaluation method for the research project.  


Good Vibrations, March 2020

In early March 2020, Good Vibrations ran a gamelan project at HMP Wealstun. This functioned as something of a pilot project for Inspiring Futures, allowing us to try out our materials and methods. We could not have asked for a better pilot: the staff at the prison were outstanding, the facilitators were enormously flexible to include our paperwork as well as their own and we had a large group of participants to work with, who were generous with their conversation and feedback. We were also able to establish a comparison group.

Good Vibrations prison projects run over one week, with participants attending all day Monday-Friday. They learn about Indonesian gamelan music and culture, get to play different instruments, learn traditional pieces and devise new pieces to play, all culminating in a performance on the final day. We were able to observe the whole week at HMP Wealstun, joining in with the activities. The staff there pulled out all the stops to allow a performance to happen, inviting participants’ families and friends in to the audience. The atmosphere was fantastic. We are now working on our longitudinal study, following up with as many participants as we can. (If you are a Good Vibrations participant and would like to join in, please get in touch!)


App development

Little did we know that the country would come to a stop the week after the Good Vibrations project at HMP Wealstun. Project delivery stopped, and our carefully laid plans for the next year were covered with a large question mark. Needless to say, we have not been able to do much active research. However, the last year has allowed us to develop our Inspiring Futures app, which is now almost ready for trialling. The app is a data collection tool with which participants can fill in our questionnaires, but also do journal entries using voice note, video, photos or text, to share more about how their arts project is going and what it means to them.


Only Connect / Finding Rhythms

Since last October, we have been able to observe two Only Connect music courses in London. A collaboration between Only Connect and Finding Rhythms, these projects have taken small groups of 4 and 6 people through a 6-week urban music course, during which participants work with producers to create and mix their own track, learning about business and industry skills as they go. Not only was this a great opportunity to gather data, it was exciting to be able to get back in a creative setting with other people after so long away! The tracks written were remarkable, and the course is a wonderful way for people to realise their potential and develop their skills, musical and otherwise.


Going forward…

And so, that is a snapshot of where we have got to. Watch this space for more information about our methods and our emerging findings, for what is coming up, and for what others have to say about the creative work going on in criminal justice settings.




Inspiring Futures is a 3-year research project led by Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe and Dr Caroline Lanskey, investigating the impact and meaning of arts projects in the criminal justice system. It is an independent research project, embedded into the Inspiring Futures programme run by the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance, investigating the work of a number of arts partner organisations. It is funded by the ESRC.


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