Sophie O'Sullivan, about 3 years ago
Was has choir singing got to do with business?
Apparently, quite a lot, according to charity Beating Time.
Creative engagement with the arts is so important. It is not a luxury. For lots of ex-offenders, performance is a way in which they can begin to imagine a better life for themselves. Read our thought-piece on the impact of creativity here.
Beating Time is an organisation that runs singing and performance programmes in prisons in the West Midlands and South East. By creating Choirs in Prison Beating Time are modelling within prison positive supportive communities. Singing creates social bonds between people 7 times faster than other social activities ( * Professor Robin Dunbar of Oxford University). Research also shows that people who belong to a choir – feel it is the most meaningful and purposeful group they belong to, outside the family. Creating social inclusion in prison is vital. Its where our most socially excluded people end up. Many people in prison have experienced exclusion their entire life (Social Care, School Exclusion, Poverty, Addiction, Homelessness…). In Choir people experience a powerful sense of belonging. For many it provides a foundation of inclusion, progression and self-belief upon which they can start rebuilding their lives.
Singing is also a very effective anti-depressant, raising levels of mood boosting hormones and supressing stress hormones. Depression and anxiety are rife in prison. There were 44,000 incidents of self-harm last year. Mental health needs to be addressed if people are to move forward.
Once people feel able to cope mentally and feel socially that they can belong – it's possible to start thinking about sustainable employment.
Re-offending costs the state £13 billion annually. Employment more than halves re-offending rates. However, the percentage of people finding sustainable jobs post-release is only 19%. The Exceptionals campaign shows that many people serving prison sentences have exceptional skills and can be a credit to the overall workforce, boosting company morale and shining a positive light on social responsibility and the human impact of the business.
Heather Phillips, founder and CEO of Beating Time says:
We have pilots, teachers, estate agents, chefs, Phds in our choirs and many people who have run their own businesses – both legitimate and illegitimate…but it's the same skill set.
What is interesting about Beating Time is that they create employment opportunities through singing. As of January 2019, over 600 men have sung with Beating Time in the last four years. They host regular events to showcase the incredible talent and potential that these people have to prospective employers. Over 100 employers have attended Beating Time concerts. This has inspired local businesses and KPMG to help ex-offenders set up their own businesses on release.
In addition they have just established RESTART: a Start-Up Programme that not only helps men write practical business plans – but funds them on release. The programme is supported by KPMG.
Beating Time is forward-thinking in the way it approaches the rehabilitative process, developing a culture of entrepreneurship and diligence that directly reduces reoffending rates.
We have written about their RESTART programme on our blog. A report by the Centre for Entrepreneurs estimates that 79% of prisoners are interested in starting a business, compared to around 40% of the UK population. The long-term economic benefit is there: the average individual cost of reoffending is almost £300,000, whereas the RESTART programme costs only £3000 per person.
We have made a short film of Alberto's experience of prison – and the role belonging to a prison choir/ singing and performing played in rebuilding his life. Many others played a role too – and the film acknowledges that. Whilst it focus' on our work – it really shows that the road out of prison, needs many lanes, laybys and multiple destinations.
- Heather Phillips, CEO of Beating Time
Beating Time recently released an evocative video documenting Alberto Gonzalez's prison experience. It demonstrates how singing has helped him start over, developing his talents as a photographer and ultimately leading to solid job at Snappy Snaps. Alberto, like many others, was able to beat time and move on:
at my lowest point singing changed my life.
The people behind the charity were there for me. They saw my potential. Because I was motivated and because people believed in me, I took the decision to change my life. When I got released, I went into rehab. Then, after that, I started looking for a job and with the help of Beating Time, I started working with Snappy Snaps. On top of that, I am still singing… Without Beating Time, I wouldn't be here.
- Alberto Gonzalez, Beating Time
Beating Time have an impressive, rapidly growing business network. Employment agency Blue Sky Developments are part of this network. They employ ex-offenders directly for short periods and sub-contact them to the main employer. Blue Sky support the employer and employee every step of the way. These short placements work well as trial periods to test the suitability of the role for the individual and the company. Since 2005 Blue Sky have employed over 1,300 ex-offenders.