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Shared Reading on National Prison Radio

Written by Rachael Norris, 20th November 2020

Your chance to listen to specially curated programmes, including final episode with award-winning writer, Lemn Sissay MBE 

Earlier this year, The Reader collaborated with prison-based charity, Prison Radio Association, to bring the comfort and escapism of Shared Reading to listeners in 120 prisons around the UK during lockdown. 

As a new national lockdown beginsThe Reader has released all six specially recorded programmes so that people everywhere can now enjoy and experience them  listen to them here.

Prison Radio Association, which – like The Reader – is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, operates National Prison Radio, the world’s first national radio station for prisoners.  

The Reader, which has delivered Shared Reading groups in the criminal justice system for over a decade, worked closely with PRA to record six sessions which were broadcast on National Prison Radio over a six-week period from late June to September 2020. 

Helen Wilson, The Reader’s Head of Shared Reading Programmes, saidDuring the first lockdown we put our usual in-person Shared Reading groups on pause and looked for new ways to carry on reading with people.  

For most of our readers, connecting online and over the phone quickly became the ‘new normal’ but for the men and women we read with who were serving sentences, we needed to find another way. Not least as many were being asked to stay in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, without family visits and greatly reduced access to meaningful, social activity as a result.   

76% of prisoners listen to National Prison Radio, so using that as the channel to bring some of what we’re usually able to offer to residents – whether they have previously attended groups or not – was something we were of course keen to try 

We know that Shared Reading has brought comfort and connection to many during lockdown and we’re extremely grateful to PRA for making this possible for our readers who are currently living in prison. Special thanks too goes to their contributors – Ali, Victoria, Jerelle and Tara – who generously gave Shared Reading a go with us in order to make these programmes. We have benefitted enormously from the perspectives and efforts of all involved.” 

Each programme is essentially a mini Shared Reading session which lasts for around 50 minutes. A member of staff from The Reader’s criminal justice team is joined by two of National Prison Radio’s regular contributors. They read a poem and / or short story together and the conversation goes from there 

Writer, Lemn Sissay, guests in the final episode for a reading of his poem ‘Going Places’ and extracts from his memoir, My Name is Why.  

The ideas and themes in Lemn’s writing spark thoughts and feelings ranging from mental health in lockdown, hope, isolation and the power that reading and writing offers to us all. 

Listen to that episode and the other programmes aired on National Prison Radio here.

The Reader and Prison Radio Association are currently working together on plans to produce a further ten programmes, which will be broadcast on National Prison Radiin the new year.  

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