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The Power of Writing: The Seagull

Eleanor De, about 4 weeks ago

In our last blog we focused on the creative outlet that a national newspaper like Inside Time provides, and in this blog we will be explaining the advantages of smaller, locally-based publications.

The Seagull was set up 10 years ago to create a channel of communication between HMP Haverigg, prisoners' families (via the visitor centre) and Cumbrian residents so that they understood each other better. Founder Kim Farr recognised that was relatively little information in the public domain about prisoners and prison life. As a result, many people across Cumbria wouldn't know what an average day was like for a prisoner or what kind of 'employment' options were available which, for HMP Haverigg, includes activities as diverse as mending bicycles, smoking fish and meat, training as a falconer, recycling white goods, working in horticulture, making sheds and benches in the woodwork area, getting qualifications as a personal trainer in the gym and working in the call centre.

The Seagull is written by a small number of prisoners (a team of up to 3 at any one time) and Kim. She visits the prison each month to discuss content and progress and if there is a need to research items on the internet, interview people outside the prison or take photos then she will do so. The newsletter is printed in the prison and circulated around the prison and visitor centres for families. It is also emailed to community groups, organisations connected with the criminal justice system and drug and alcohol projects, staff and trustees of Cumbria Reducing Offending Partnership Trust across Cumbria and North Lancashire.

As there is a high turnover of prisoners working on The Seagull, the flavour of the publication is flexible and depends on who is involved in the creative process. Prisoners apply to work on the paper and it clearly reflects the interest of those working on it which, in recent editions, has included art and poetry. Over the period of a year, between 6 and 12 prisoners will be involved. Some will improve their graphic design and IT skills whilst others are more interested in writing and in previous years (with greater funding) some of the prisoners could gain journalism qualifications. Nonetheless, even without official qualifications the increase in confidence and skills and the benefit of having experience to talk about at interview is incredibly valuable for the men as they move towards employment.

The Seagull's community-based approach is quite unique and helps to close the gap between prison and the 'outside world', making it easier for prisoners to readjust and for local people to gain greater insight into their lives. This positive, up-beat take on prison life shines a spotlight on the potential of prisoners and gives them hope for their future upon release.

You can access their most recent newsletter here.