Creative writing with Hatchlands Park and HMP Send

Rachel Devine, House Steward Rachel Devine House Steward
Chapbooks produced by the women of HMP Send

Over the last year, following on from our 2018 programming which featured Fanny Boscawen and the Bluestocking Society, House Steward, Rachel Devine has been continuing to develop a creative writing outreach project in partnership with local women’s prison, HMP Send.

In partnership with the library manager at HMP Send, Guildford Book Festival, the University of Surrey, University of Brighton and the Royal College of Art, the collective aim has been to support our local community and give a creative outlet to a group of women with little opportunity to make their voice public.

The original 18th century Bluestocking Society, of which Hatchlands Park’s Fanny Boscawen was a founding member, challenged women’s equal rights to education. They gave women a public voice, a place in intellectual society and a new financial independence as authors. It could be argued that the women of HMP Send have had their voice and place in society removed, so it seemed fitting to work with them on this theme and get their voices outside the prison walls.

Chapbook project

The writing project was based upon a hugely successful series of educational pamphlets published by bluestocking Hannah More from 1795 onwards. Known as ‘Cheap Repository Tracts’ or ‘chapbooks’, these pamphlets were cheaply hand bound from a few sheets of paper with a woodblock-printed cover. Originally designed to reach those without access to education they’re still a popular art form today, widely used as an affordable tool for self-publication. 

" Over the years I’ve seen how important literature is to the wellbeing of the residents here. With creative writing, the escapism becomes personal, allowing the writer the chance to take ownership of their experience."
- Paul Rickards, Library Manager

Using the National Trust’s programming themes as inspiration the women at HMP Send were invited to create their own chapbooks. Weekly writing sessions were set up with Library Manager, Paul Rickards and Vice Chair of Guildford Book Festival, Eleanor March who provided individual feedback and support for the writers. 

Paul understands the benefits of having a creative outlet in a prison environment, helping to rebuild confidence and self-esteem, ‘Over the years I’ve seen how important literature is to the wellbeing of the residents here. With creative writing, the escapism becomes personal, allowing the writer the chance to take ownership of their experience. In sharing their work, they have the chance to express feelings they have bottled up.’ 

Art workshops in partnership with the Royal College of Art have also been put in place to help the women to illustrate their writing and create cover artwork for each chapbook. Senior Tutor at the RCA, Luke Pendrell has been running the sessions; ‘It was inspirational to see the levels of engagement and commitment from the women involved. They were as dedicated as any undergraduate that I’ve ever taught. Their enjoyment of taking the project full circle was a great example of the transformative potential for art in society.’

Successful stories

Getting their voices heard and their work seen has been rewarded with entry into the 2019 Koestler Trust Awards for writing. The feedback from the women who took part was extremely positive resulting in plans for further workshops in 2019.

This year’s batch of chapbooks were exhibited during the Guildford Book Festival to advertise the project followed by a final exhibition held in the Music Room at Hatchlands Park in May 2019. Charlotte took part in the first project from start to finish and remembers the impact on the women in having their work exhibited.

" Writing is a great way of coping with what is a chaotic existence in an environment where emotions run high. We all felt really proud when the books went on display."
- Charlotte, project participant

‘Writing is a great way of coping with what is a chaotic existence in an environment where emotions run high. We all felt really proud when the books went on display. Women who felt they couldn't write or lacked confidence to even try were excitedly calling home to tell their close ones that they’d had their first work published. They felt accepted and valued.’

The reaction from you, our visitors and supporters, has been overwhelmingly positive. We hope that we’ll be able to continue to challenge people’s expectations of the work that the National Trust does and the role that our special places can play in their communities.

Rachel Devine who developed and runs the project said, ‘Exhibiting their work at Hatchlands Park was the crowning moment. I wanted to show that the women are not defined by their offence, but are authors, artists and have stories that are relevant.’