Imagine If

Bird on the Wing

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“"I now have a brighter outlook for my future upon release. I think every prison in the country should run the course."”

— Participant, HMP Wealstun

Imagine If have recently hosted Bird on the Wing at national prisons including HMP Leeds, HMP Doncaster, and HMP Wealstun. 

Bird on the Wing is a 3 week intensive course for up to 20 offenders in prison, who are all due for release within 12 weeks. Bird on the Wing uses drama based exercises and techniques to improve the offenders confidence, communication skills and employability skills. The course culminates in a performance by the offenders to local employers within the prison to bridge the gap between employment and re-offending.

100% of participants, who completed the course, enjoyed working with Imagine If

Arts activities are considered to have a range of benefits – from increased self-confidence to transferable skills – which can help divert people away from pathways to crime or break the cycle of reoffending” (The Unit for the Arts and Offenders Centre for Applied Theatre Research).

Evaluations from Bird on the Wing projects have shown ex-offenders were able to improve self-confidence, communication skills and team working. The project helps develop participants’ personal skills, aimed at the intention of equipping prisoners to be more employable upon release.

Bird on the Wing provides an effective response to the real needs of offenders being released into the community with underdeveloped employment skills and dysfunctional family relationships due to breakdown of communication.

High proportions of offenders have negative experiences of education and have under attained academically, reflected in Scotland’s Choice report (2008) that “Of all prisoners 80% have writing, 65% have numeracy, and 50% have reading skills of an 11 year old.” Offenders tend not to respond well to traditional training and learning methods which affects their self esteem and confidence; factors identified with offending behaviour.

Delivered by a professional theatre company, Bird on the Wing uses applied theatre techniques alongside a desistance to crime framework to achieve high quality outcomes for prisoners.

75% of participants had never done drama before Bird on the Wing.

97% of participants felt they had improved in drama skills after Bird on the Wing.

A performance afternoon in the third week showcases the skills developed during Bird on the Wing. An invited audience of employers, agencies and support services visit the prison, to watch a play created by the participants. They receive CVs and cover letters (produced during the course), share contacts and arrange meetings upon release.

“I would not in a million years have dreamt of standing up in front of an audience and performing a play before I started this course. But it shows what you can achieve with a bit of confidence and hard work”

Participant, HMP Wealstun.


Imagine If Theatre Company recently delivered Bird on the Wing to 41 prisoners in HMP Leeds, HMP Doncaster, and HMP Wealstun.


Participants at HMP Leeds

During the Bird On The Wing, 100% of participants completed a CV, many for the first time despite resources being available in the prison. 60% of participants would ‘definitely’ or ‘maybe’ be interested in taking part in a future workshop or project with Imagine If.

“I struggled at first being confident and opening up, now I feel really confident and optimistic” 

Participant, HMP Leeds.


“My confidence has come on leaps and bounds. Before this course I never could have got up on stage and acted”

Participant, HMP Leeds.


100% of participants said they had improved their team work skills.

The feedback from participants was glowing:

100% felt they had improved in creativity

100% felt they had improved in confidence

93% felt they had improved skills in understanding

87% felt that they definitely had improved their employability skills

97% felt their communication skills had improved.


Participants at HMP Doncaster

When we ran Bird on the Wing at HMP Doncaster, the results and evaluations continued to be exceptional.

100% of participants enjoyed working with Imagine If and felt they had developed confidence, communication and team work skills, and creativity. 83% of participants felt they had improved understanding.

“A truly inspiring workshop that is so different to any I have attended before. Because of the originality of the style of the workshop, it captured the participants’ and the audiences’ imagination immediately, resulting in the best possible outcome for the most important people in the room – the participants”
Jerry Spencer, Director HMP Doncaster 

At the beginning of the course only 17% of participants reported feeling confident ‘often’ or ‘all of the time’. By the end of the course this had risen to 86% feeling confident often or all of the time. Overall, the group’s feelings of confidence had increased by 405% over the duration of the course.

The course effectively increased participants’ ability to communicate. Only 33% of participants felt able to communicate successfully often or all of the time at the beginning of the course, with 100% feeling able to communicate successfully by the end of the course.


Participants at HMP Wealstun

Has anything surprised you during Bird on the Wing?
“Yes. My ability to grow as a person.”
Participant, HMP Wealstun.

In the 16 participant’s who undertook Bird on the Wing at HMP Wealstun, a clear progression is visible in the number of participants feeling able to communicate successfully all of the time by the end of the course.

46% of participants felt able to communicate successfully all of the time at the beginning of the course, with 93% feeling able to communicate successfully all of the time by the end of the course.

One of the most significant progressions for the group, aside from the skills outcomes, was in ‘feeling useful’. A large proportion of participants who felt useful ‘only some of the time’, ended the course feeling useful all of the time or often.

How else do you feel this course may have benefitted you?
“By making me feel like a human again and not just a number.”

Participant, HMP Wealstun.


During all Bird on the Wing projects, participant’s have reported an increase in confidence, communication and employability skills, team work, and creativity. Overall the reception to and impact of Bird on the Wing was extremely positive!

Imagine if would love to bring ‘Bird on the Wing’ to your establishment in 2019. Please contact us to book.

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