Throughout the summer, benches shaped like open books popped up across Manchester to celebrate the city’s love of reading. 58 BookBench sculptures, installed as part of the Read Manchester campaign, were decorated with literary designs by local schools and community groups.
A group of around 70 prisoners from HMP Manchester designed and decorated one of the BookBenches for the project. Their BookBench was displayed at The Royal Exchange Theatre during the BookBench trail.
Head of Learning and Skills at HMP Manchester, Fiona Patterson, helped to organise the project at the prison. “We ran a book review competition open to everyone in order to increase reading and re-reading of favourite literature,” she explained. “This was successful with lots of entries submitted, and with an array of genres reviewed. It also created a healthy competition between the men and raised awareness of reading and its positive impact to those taking part.”
The top three books chosen by the prisoners were Great Expectations, Lord of The Rings and The Birds. A design featuring elements of all three books was created, with the prisoners working together to paint the design onto the BookBench during art classes.
“The men took real ownership of the BookBench,” explained Fiona. “The design aspect allowed the men to discuss and explore the themes of the books further, which were then incorporated into the final design.”
Designing and painting the BookBench for it to be displayed at the Royal Exchange had a very positive effect on the men at HMP Manchester, and inspired some to develop their reading and art skills. “I hadn’t heard of two of the books until I got involved with the bench,” said one prisoner. “I am going to try and read Great Expectations and The Birds.”
“I can now mix colours really well,” said another prisoner. “I have learnt a lot about blending paint. When I get released I am going to do some craft things with my kids.”
Having the BookBench displayed in a public space for families to visit also had a positive effect on the men, as Fiona explained: “The pride that the men had in working on the BookBench was transferred to the families, who visited the trail and gave positive feedback, which in turn had a positive impact on family links.”
One prisoner’s girlfriend took his daughter to see the bench once it was installed. “My mum and dad went to see the bench at the Royal Exchange,” said another prisoner. “They said it looked great and took photos of it for me.”