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News story

New exhibition showcases the voices and writing of Swindon’s young people in the criminal justice system

17 Apr 2023

New Chapters 1

New Chapters is a free, eye-opening exhibition showcasing the writing of young people in Swindon who are in the criminal justice system. The exhibition is part of the National Literacy Trust’s national creative writing project of the same name, which is delivered in Swindon alongside Swindon Youth Justice Service (YJS). The project helps children and young people in contact with the YJS tell their stories, improve their writing confidence and literacy skills, develop self-esteem and self-efficacy, and find their voice. The exhibition runs from Monday 17 April to 17 May at Swindon Central Library and hopes to build connections between people in in the criminal justice system and the local community through creative writing.

The exhibition displays writing from the New Chapters Anthology, a collection of writing from people in prisons, youth offender institutions, and other secure establishments. As part of the project, young people from Swindon have taken part in creative writing workshops with writers who share their experiences. Their written pieces, forming part of the New Chapters exhibition, are powerful works of art sharing personal stories about identity, where they come from, and experiences that have shaped them.

The exhibition will be held in the library foyer, where attendees can interact with hard copies of the writing, audio recordings of the New Chapters participants reading their work, and information about the project.

Young adults who receive custodial sentences have significantly lower levels of literacy than their peers and are more likely to be disengaged with education and absent from school. New Chapters is an invaluable project which builds a positive relationship with literacy and education, giving them the reading, writing, and communication skills they need to create a better future.

One young woman who participated in the workshop with author and performer Lady Unchained said:

“Meeting her gave me hope – she’s gone through the things we’ve been through and she’s put herself on the right path. That makes me think maybe I can still get somewhere.”

The workshops were led by authors who share lived experiences of the issues participants face and are role models with inspiring stories of their own. The authors included Lady Unchained, Ciaran Thapar, Desree, DD Armstrong and Laura Dockrill. At each session, the National Literacy Trust donated New Chapters notebooks and pens, as well as signed copies of the book by the visiting author.

“Lady Unchained was so cool. She knew how to chat to us and she really understood what we have gone through, especially as women. It was inspirational to be in her session because she can talk to us and relate to us in a different way than the service workers can. I hadn’t read in years, but I started reading her book after the workshops.”

As part of the National Literacy Trust’s ongoing work in Swindon, the exhibition is hosted by Swindon Libraries to root the activity in accessible community spaces. The New Chapters Anthology publishes poems, short stories, rap lyrics, non-fiction and more produced by participants across the year. The exhibition in Swindon is part of a tour to celebrate the anthology and bring the work of Swindon’s participants to a wider audience.

The local project has been delivered in partnership with the Swindon Youth Justice Service, who aim to prevent children from entering the criminal justice system and re-offending, and Education Other than School, a pupil referral unit for children who are currently requiring support to manage their behaviour, or who are no longer able to study in mainstream education.

“Our mission as a charity is to engage young people with literacy, particularly those with low literacy levels, which sadly includes many young people in the criminal justice system. “New Chapters introduces these young people to inspirational writers that they can relate and look up to, showing them the power of writing and telling your story, as well as giving them the practical literacy skills they need to succeed. The workshops in Swindon saw participants learn from inspiring authors who share their lived experiences, who understand their specific issues, and who speak the same language. We created a safe and supportive space for the young people to engage with literacy, opening up their opportunities, and empowering them with skills and confidence to build a better future."

Rebecca Perry, Head of Adult Literacy and Criminal Justice at the National Literacy Trust

“The New Chapters project has been a great success: the partnership approach and engagement with authors who have lived experience has made creative writing accessible to our children. The project has supported children with pro-social identity development and an improved sense of self and the world around them. We aim to develop this project further and continue to be ambitious for children’s educational outcomes in Swindon YJS.”

Michael O’Connor, Head of Swindon Youth Justice Service
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