New Leaves. Ancient Stories. Changing Lives

Welcome to the first blog, for our newly launched website from Write to Freedom founder and Creative Director Caspar Walsh

Dicken’s fictional ‘Hard Times’ are here, now, in real time. The impact of the global financial crisis of 2008 has hit pretty much everyone I know in one way or another. I won’t get into the politics (I’d only get into trouble), only to say that as a result of government cuts, the crucible of Write to Freedom’s creation, the highly progressive HMP and YOI Ashfield, was shut down in 2013. This ended an era of work for us. Some of the many amazing projects we ran there over a ten year stint included the much praised BBC Radio 4 docu drama, written and recorded in the prison and a long standing column in The Guardian. Ultimately it became a place where we helped young prisoners break free and come work with us in the wilds of Dartmoor – if only for a weekend on licence for good behaviour. Over the final five years at Ashfield we ran more than twenty residential programmes on moor and coast and countless workshops inside the prison. Saying goodbye to that level of engagement, energy, personal transformation and the amazing prison education staff was tough for all of us.

Since Ashfield ended, Write to Freedom (W2F) has been finding its creative feet in a time of radical government reform. Continuing our strong portfolio of prison work, we’ve also commenced a series of community based projects with probation, youth offending and addiction support services. Moving forward with our partnership with HMP and YOI Parc, and now working alongside Barnardo’s, we have launched the New Leaves programme; supporting children and their imprisoned parents in a series of nature-connection and story creation days on the Brecon Beacons. This has been generously funded by The Worshipful Company of Weavers.

We’re also furthering our long term focus and experience in mentoring young people with an Awards for All funded wilderness and writing project for young people from Plymouth. This will include a series of outdoor days, working with Tribe Warrior, time on Dartmoor and personal, explorative writing.

We’ve spent the last two years developing these and other projects as well as building the infrastructure, strategy and profile of the charity. In much the same way our students have had to adapt to survive and thrive in life, so too has W2F.

This newly launched website, which I think is a big achievement, reflects this new phase of our work and growth and celebrates our many new developments and achievements. We’ve built on a strong track record for top notch creativity and delivery and worked hard to create new opportunities for a wider, even more diverse client group.

Personally it has been a tough few years, both in the new directions with my professional writing and teaching and in finding my place in this newly expanded and thriving organisation. My vision for W2F has always been as a vehicle for personal change and growth, for creativity and communication and for this to be for everyone involved: students, staff, volunteers partner organisations and funders. What is happening now shines a light on all that and makes the long road extremely worthwhile. I’m humbled by it all.

I’ll be blogging regularly for this site, including new material from our students and staff, comment on social and criminal justice issues, and reporting back on all that is happening with Write to Freedom and our writing in the wild.

In closing and honouring the motto of the recently departed guiding light of 70’s televisual justice… Police 5’s, Shaw Taylor: “Keep ‘em peeled…”

Caspar Walsh

Creative Director

March 2015