Women offenders tell their life stories through art and film exhibition

News item posted: 19 June 2017

Life Stories, an art and film exhibition created by a female offender group, was showcased at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art on Thursday 11 July. The exhibition gives a unique insight into the issues which contribute to the downward cycle into offending, and the work each individual needs to do to turn their life around.

The Wallsend Women's group is run by Northumbria Probation Trust in response to Baroness Corston's call for a distinct approach to working with women offenders. The group is designed to meet the specific needs of female offenders and provides an informal and safe environment where they can more effectively address their offending behaviour. This approach has seen an increase in offender motivation and a reduction in reoffending.

The Life Stories project is an innovative approach to maximise offender engagement and compliments the offence focussed work undertaken through individual supervision and group sessions.

A community artist and a specialist animator from the Baltic worked with the women's group to produce the Life Stories project. 12 women completed eight canvasses and additionally some developed their work through film.

Many of the women have overcome extreme hardship and trauma and survived to share their life experiences with others in the group which has not only enabled them to move forward but also to assist others. Being involved in such a project has also given the women a sense of achievement and realisation of their own potential.

Heather, women's group, explained: "It was helpful and heartbreaking. I've never spoken about what happened to me before, always kept it to myself. Putting it into art helped me to express what I've been thinking. I don't know what I would have done without the group. Now I want to move on, go to college and get my English and maths."

Amanda Seddon, Northumbria Probation Trust team manager, explained: "For the women, seeing their work in the Baltic is indescribable and has been an extremely positive experience. More importantly the women's confidence and self esteem has increased through the project, which in turn has had a positive impact on their progress towards a crime free life."

Turning Point work with the group to provide Brief Interventions and Advice; encourage referral to specialist treatment services for those showing signs of dependence and to provide ongoing support to women within the group who have identified alcohol as an issue for them or as a factor in their offending.

Paula Routledge, Operations Manager for Turning Point North Tyneside Drug Intervention Programme said; "We were incredibly proud to work alongside our probation partners to support this project and it was wonderful to share a more positive side of rehabilitation with our communities. Huge thanks to Senior Practitioner, Cathy Mc Gawley as well as the staff across Turning Point's Gateshead services who supported this.

 "Art is an important way of telling your own story and through this helping to break down the stigma which exists around both offending and substance misuse. I hope that this artwork helps people understand more about the women's lives and the work that we do."