Distant Voices: Coming Home

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Social & Political Sciences

Abstract

Distant Voices responds to pressing public policy and political challenges created by huge rises in the numbers of people subject to penal sanctions and by high levels of reoffending. Turning conventional understandings of 'offender rehabilitation' on their head, the project is concerned not with 'correcting offenders' but rather with exploring and changing how they are received when 'coming home' after punishment.

The project aims:

(1) to improve academic and public understandings of social re/integration after punishment;
(2) to develop innovative practices to better support re/integration; and
(3) to better engage a range of citizens, communities and civil society institutions in re/integration.

As a collaborative action research project drawing on criminology, popular music, politics and other disciplines, Distant Voices combines creative practices (principally songwriting and sharing), research and knowledge exchange to enable dialogue and learning about re/integration -- and to practice and support it. Its participatory methods draw together a wide range of differently situated citizens, organisations and associations to form a 'community of enquiry' and of creative practice. This range of participants will work across three inter-related activities. (1) In 'co-creative inquiry', participants will work with one another and with professional musicians to write songs that explore, represent and reflect on re/integration. (2) In 'co-creative dialogue' these songs will be shared through the production and release of a high-profile album, a related tour and a series of public events, including two festivals. A series of podcasts will also be produced and shared via an interactive website. (3) In 'co-creative discovery', a core group of the wider community of enquiry will work with the investigators to use collaborative participant observation and to develop and employ a range of other social science and arts-based research methods to explore their learning and to assess what has (and has not) been achieved in and through the project.

Through these activities, Distant Voices aspires to develop theories and concepts of reintegration and rehabilitation, to influence related behaviours, to inform interventions and, more broadly, to encourage the development of a fairer and more vibrant society.

Planned Impact

Distant Voices is a partnership between the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research and Vox Liminis. It has the financial and in-kind support of the Scottish Prison Service and the Glasgow Community Justice Authority, as well as the in-principle support of the Scottish Government's Community Justice Division (see attached letters of support). A related funding proposal is currently being assessed by Creative Scotland. Over the last two years, DV has run two successful pilot phases that inform this ambitious proposal (to hear some of the results, see: https://voxliminis.bandcamp.com/album/distant-voices-silent-seconds-ep). Over its three-year life, the project will offer a model of engaged social science that creatively combines research, knowledge exchange and creative practice development. The co-investigators have extensive relevant experience and capabilities (McNeill was a recipient of an ESRC Award for Outstanding Impact in Public Policy in 2014 for a predecessor project).

In relation to practice impact, DV will enhance understanding of the role and effectiveness of creative practices in criminal justice and generate significant learning about community engagement in re/integration. In policy impact terms, this will have relevance not just in criminal justice but also in other policy areas where integration and inclusion are also key priorities. Perhaps more importantly, the project's academic and artistic outputs and extensive programme of public engagement create the potential for considerable social and cultural impact, influencing public attitudes and informing public debate. To use a meteorological metaphor, rather than developing technologies for managing the adverse conditions that affect re/integration, Distant Voices seeks to find means of changing the climate in which it takes place.

The project's beneficiaries and contributors include people with lived experience of crime, punishment and reintegration (both victims and offenders) and their families; criminal justice policymakers, managers and practitioners (in prisons and in the community); artists; and civil society groups (e.g. local grass-roots community groups, faith communities, businesses, the media). All of these groups will be represented in the community of enquiry we seek to develop and support throughout the project activities. The representative research core group will established in the project's first quarter, participating in the first research workshop in month 3 (and then quarterly). As such they are both contributors to and beneficiaries of the project.

In terms of processes and mechanisms, we aim to secure practice, policy and cultural and social impact through development and exchange of different forms of knowledge and skills, opening up spaces for transformative inter-personal, professional, social and political dialogue. In using music as both a means of and a catalyst for communication, and through building a community of enquiry for collaborative action research, the project will break down disciplinary borders, allowing a richer understanding of public participation in one of the most contested areas of political life. Through these processes, we will increase the motivation of citizens and civil society institutions, and of professionals and organisations to engage with re/integration and build capacities and opportunities for re/integration. We also aim to learn about how creative practice-as-research-as knowledge exchange can inform the 'impact agenda' and conceptions of 'public social science'.

Details of forms of and pathways to impact with (1) individuals and group; (2) systems, institutions and communities; and (3) society are included in the Pathways to Impact document.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title 30/09/17 Performance at Recovery Walk Scotland 
Description A performance of songs made in sessions with people involved in the criminal justice system. Performed as part of the annual recovery walk in solidarity with those in recovery from addiction. In 2017 it took place in Dundee, and reached an audience of about 300 people 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Reaching new audiences. 
URL http://www.scottishrecoveryconsortium.org/index.php?id=2547
 
Title Alcohol Free Functions Performance (Louis Abbott) 
Description A performance of songs made in sessions with people involved in the criminal justice system. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Raising awareness of the project. 
 
Title Songs co-written with people involved in the criminal justice system 
Description Audio Recordings of more than 50 new songs co-written with people involved in the criminal justice system. Most of these are not publicly available, but two can be listened to on the website of vox liminis: https://www.voxliminis.co.uk/media/halcyon-bay/ https://www.voxliminis.co.uk/media/fuck-it-button/ 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact These songs are the result of songwriting sessions, which are a key activity in which we discuss, represent and experience re/integration principally in and through the creative practice of songwriting. The songs are an important part of the research themselves but also form the basis of future academic and artistic enquiry. The songs reach a wide audience through live performance, recording, and radio play. 
URL https://www.voxliminis.co.uk/media/halcyon-bay/
 
Title We Who Are About To Chapter One 
Description In response to our first core group meeting in September, our research associate Phil Thomas wrote the first chapter of a speculative science fiction novel, using the events and experiences of that meeting as inspiration. Her chapter reflects on the difficulty of establishing a community, on finding a common language, and on the meaning of home. Responding to the theme of homecoming, she designed the story to be printed out and folded into the shape of an origami house. She also created a number of images by collaging photographs taken during the workshop, with images from the British Library's collection of copyright-free sources. The chapter functions as both research, creative writing and design. You can download and read the chapter and Phil's explanation of the work here: https://www.voxliminis.co.uk/media/we-who-are-about-to/. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact In response to chapter one, another member of the core group of distant voices was inspired to write chapter two of the story. This is not yet publicly available. 
URL https://www.voxliminis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Thomas_WeWhoAreAboutTo_ChapterOne.pdf
 
Description Scottish Prison Service - Distant Voices
Amount £25,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 01545 
Organisation Government of Scotland 
Department Scottish Prison Service
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 09/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Description Alison Urie Presentation at North Lanarkshire Criminal Justice Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Co-investigator Alison Urie gave a presentation to delegates of the North Lanarkshire Criminal Justice Conference. November 22nd 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description House Gigs 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have had the first of two 'house-gigs' hosted by people directly involved in the community of enquiry - bringing songs into intimate engagement with their social networks. These events are studied as processes and sites of dialogue about re/integration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description Pre-workshop Prison Performances 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Before each vox songwriting workshop a couple of the musicians who will be taking part perform a selection of the songs made in previous sessions to staff and prisoners at the host prison. We discuss the project and songs with prisoners and staff, and recruit members for the upcoming session. There have been six performances since the start of the award.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description Presentation to conference on 'Connecting Communities: Participatory Arts and Social Action Research' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation on Distant Voices to an international conference of academics, practitioners and students interested in participatory arts and social action research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.ncrm.ac.uk/documents/CFP.pdf
 
Description Presentation to the Independent Social Research Foundation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A presentation on Distant Voices at Girton College Cambridge to 10 academic staff of the University of Plymouth, supported by the Independent Social Research Foundation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Solas Festival 2017 Performance and Discussion during Live on Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Fergus McNeill and Padraig O'Tauma engaged in conversation on Distant Voices. Louis Abbott then performed Prodigal's Return - a song written at Solas Festival in response to a song written in a Vox Session in HMP Low Moss a couple of years ago.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.solasfestival.co.uk/line-up/day-by-day/
 
Description Stories: A Rendezvous with Adrian (Louis Abbott) - feature on collaboration behind a song on our first album 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In the lead up to the release of the first Distant Voices album in May 2018, we will publish a series of stories on the vox liminis website behind some of the songs. Here, Distant Voices Creative Lead Louis Abbott introduces 'Rendezvous with Warpaint' and tells us a bit about the process of tracking down and seeking advice from its co-writer, Adrian.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.voxliminis.co.uk/stories-a-rendezvous-with-adrian/
 
Description Waking Up to Life After Punishment 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This activity included a keynote address (titled as above) by Fergus McNeill and a performance and discussion of songs created in the Distant Voices project (featuring Donna Maciocia and Alison Urie). The activity was part of an international conference organised by the Howard League for Penal Reform, entitled "Redesigning Justice: Promoting civil rights, trust and fairness", which took place at Keble College Oxford on 21-22 March 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://howardleague.org/events/redesigning-justice-promoting-civil-rights-trust-and-fairness/
 
Description Website feature announcing the first Distant Voices Album: Not Known at This Address 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Announcement of the creation and release of our first album of songs created from Distant Voices vox songwriting sessions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.voxliminis.co.uk/distant-voices-the-debut-album/
 
Description Website feature introducing the core group of distant voices 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We wrote a brief web post introducing the core research group of distant voices aimed at the general public. The core group is a diverse group of people brought together to explore coming home (or making a home) after imprisonment or a community sentence. This 'core group' includes people who have served sentences, social workers, people with experience of the imprisonment of a family member, prison personnel, third-sector workers, musicians, artists, and academics from different disciplines. Although members of the group often cross paths in other personal and professional capacities, we meet quarterly for dedicated research time. Together we think through what we're learning from making and sharing songs in diverse ways, with lots of different people and in many different settings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.voxliminis.co.uk/projects/distant-voices/features/?f=introducing-the-distant-voices-core...
 
Description Website feature on research behind chapter one of We Who Are About To... (Phil Thomas) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our research associate Phil Thomas wrote a post for the Vox Liminis website about We Who Are About To...: a piece of science fiction she developed as a creative research response to the first research workshop of the 'core group' of Distant Voices. In it she introduces her working methods and the concept of 'translation' as a way of thinking about bringing diverse materials and experiences together into one form. The task of writing chapter two was taken up by another member of the core group. Chapter one is available to read online at https://www.voxliminis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Thomas_WeWhoAreAboutTo_ChapterOne.pdf.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.voxliminis.co.uk/media/we-who-are-about-to/