UNLOCKED – an exhibition created by offenders at  Leicester and  Stocken prisons and the probation services – are inviting art gallery visitors to step inside the world of a prison this March.

 As part of the Leicester exhibition, offenders at Stocken Prison in Rutland have recreated a cell  using interiors including a bed, toilet, mirror, desk, chair, television and personalised sundries such as toiletries. The installation at New Walk Museum and Gallery will cocoon visitors in the sounds of a prison wing via an audio background recorded at Leicester Prison. The visitor then steps out into the gallery to be faced with projections and audio visual on the theme of HOPE, the overarching theme for the exhibition.

Over the road at Soft Touch Arts Young People’s Arts and Heritage Centre, a virtual reality headset experience will take visitors ‘inside’ an authentic prison cell in a prison to create a sensory sound and vision experience modelled on a prisoner’s first glimpse of their new home. Also exhibited will be artwork from prisoners across the Midlands, including paintings, drawings, mixed media and sculpture.

The exhibition – split between the two galleries between 7t – 29t March 2020 – is an annual event in line with a three-year mental health research project. The first UNLOCKED exhibition, in 2018, featured artwork which made national news and received an overwhelmingly positive response from the public.

More than 200 men serving sentences at HMP Leicester and HMP Stocken, as well as those on probation, have engaged in the current project to date. Soft Touch Arts are collaborating on a three-year research project with Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT) and De Montfort and Nottingham Trent Universities into the positive impact of art on the rehabilitation and mental wellbeing of prisoners. The work focuses on the CHIME (Connectedness, Hope, Identity, Meaningfulness, Empowerment) model of recovery. The CHIME method has not previously been focused around the arts, nor considered in the criminal justice context.

Based on previous pilot projects, UNLOCKED  evolved out of a ground-breaking collaboration between LPT, Soft Touch Arts and the former Glen Parva young offenders centre where LPT provided mental health care. The one-year project explored the use of art to boost the mental health of the young men.

UNLOCKED aims to evidence the efficacy of the arts methodology through an academic study in partnership with Dr Victoria Knight, Senior Research Fellow, Community and Criminal Justice at DeMontfort University and Benedict Carpenter Van Barthold, Principal Lecturer in Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University.

The project is a partnership between Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT), Soft Touch Arts, HMP Leicester, DeMontfort and Nottingham Trent Universities, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire & Rutland Community Rehabilitation Company (Probation) and Leicester City Council. It has been made possible with funding from Arts Council England, the Leicestershire police and crime commissioner, DMU