Imagine If



“This course has already built my confidence, self-esteem and communication skills more than private therapy or counselling EVER could!”

— Bird on the Wing Graduate

If you are interested in joining the Phoenix programme, you can sign up here.

What is it?




Phoenix is a post-release support programme for prison leavers which uses the arts to develop key employment and life skills. It has been created in consultation with prison leavers, who imagine if already works with.

Phoenix is a through the gate programme which works with people who have convictions in a holistic manner, providing arts-based opportunities to assist in positive resettlement and maintain motivation to cease offending behaviour.


The programme includes:

• Weekly theatre workshops working towards a yearly public performance and other opportunities to share creative work with an audience.
•   1-1 support with employment skills such as interview skills, CVs and disclosures.
• Appropriate referrals to relevant support organisations.
• The opportunity for participation, training, work experience and paid roles.
• Monthly, free arts-based social events organised and funded by imagine if .
• Tailored training in public speaking, peer-mentoring and employment skills.
• Paid opportunities to present own artistic work and participate in film and theatre work.
• Paid opportunities as lived experience experts, to represent imagine if at sector events and test new work for criminal justice settings.

How does it work?

imagine if offers unique provision within the field of arts-based resettlement interventions, by consciously taking the role of ‘Change Agents’ (McCulloch & McNeill, 2008) for all Phoenix participants. The company’s approach is based on building participants’ social skills in custody and developing their social capital upon re-entering the community. A key element of this is ensuring that prisoners have an independent, reliable, and trustworthy pro-social network immediately available to them on leaving prison, supporting real-world translation of the milestones achieved during the in-prison programme.

imagine if staff members take on the role of a ‘professional friend’, to encourage progression in the individual’s resettlement journey and motivate positive change. Phoenix establishes strong pro-social networks for all participants, which leads to improved access to services, support, and employment opportunities. Meanwhile, weekly theatre workshops and social activities to attend cultural events such as spoken word and comedy nights is a key part of the provision. This work ensures that prisoners have access to pro-social networks immediately available to them on leaving prison and distinguishes the work from other service providers, with which individuals may need support to re-engage and build trust with.


• Support people with convictions to engage in the arts.
• Encourage pro-social attitudes and provide a pro-social network for prison leavers.
• Reduce re-offending among Phoenix beneficiaries.
• To help break down personal barriers that may prevent prison leavers from gaining employment.
• Increase access to opportunities for long-term employment, training, education, or volunteering.
• Provide appropriate and effective referrals to further support systems, encouraging engagement with third-sector organisations and public services.
• Support artistic progression, realising of creative ambitions and encourage artistic expression.
• Offer paid work and work references for people with convictions.
• Develop interests and skills in the arts, improving communication skills, confidence and raising personal aspirations.

Expected Outcomes

• Decrease in re-offending evidenced by comparative study.
• Increase in individual success stories.
• Increase in positive changes evidenced by Intermediate Outcomes Measurement Instrument.
• Improved opportunities to live a crime-free life.
• Increased engagement with an individual/organisation.
• Increased motivation/participation in an activity.
• Increased social awareness (pro-social attitude).
• Attendance at a community group or activity.
• Attendance at opportunities that imagine if offer.
• Taking up volunteering opportunities.
• Seeking help from a support worker, GP or counsellor.
• Making steps towards removing the barrier that makes the individual socially excluded (e.g. drugs rehabilitation/finding housing/getting a job etc).
• Support into employment.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Several methods are used to monitor the programme and establish what works. We use the IOMI tool, commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, to evaluate the intermediate effects of our interventions.

Planned Activity 2021 – 2022: Is Anyone There and Ain’t Nuff Time

In 2021-2022, Phoenix will focus on involving people with convictions in the production of a new outdoor theatre performance (Is Anyone There) and a new short film (Ain’t Nuff Time).

Is Anyone There is a performance devised by the Phoenix group for a public audience, with the support of a full professional creative team.


Ain’t Nuff Time will be written in consultation with Phoenix participants, helping professional writer Francesca Joy to shape the themes, narrative and characters of the fictional piece. Paid roles will be offered to committed participants across both projects, providing vital work experience, improving creative skills and demonstrating the possibilities of the arts to tell diverse stories. The short film will be distributed to prisons, with the ultimate aim of educating prisoners on what to expect from life after release.


If you are interested in joining the Phoenix programme, you can sign up here.


Cost of re-offending vs cost of rehabilitation

• The total estimated economic and social cost of reoffending is £18.1 billion¹
• Holding a person in prison for one year costs an estimated £41,136²
• One person’s resettlement journey on the BOTWGP for an entire year costs just £1,471

Evidence – led work

Phoenix works holistically with an individual, to support them to solve problems in their lives, build pro-social relationships and make positive steps in a rehabilitative journey. This holistic approach is led by evidence, responding to issues in people’s lives that make them more likely to reoffend upon release.

• 46% of prisoners re-offend within one year of release³
• Offenders with accommodation problems have been found to be more likely to reoffend⁴
• Studies have shown that the extent and frequency of offending diminish when offenders gain employment⁵
• Offenders with accommodation problems have been found to be more likely to re-offend
• Ex-offenders in employment are up to 9 percentage points less likely to commit further crime. At present, however, just 17% of offenders are in P45 employment a year after release⁶

The data indicates that the in-custody intervention alongside our work in the community is working to improve employment prospects and encourage desistance from crime. These figures do not even include the individual success stories of two of the Bird on the Wing Graduates who were released from prison in 2017.

“In prison, the opportunity came up to be part of a scheme to help rehabilitate prisoners through theatrical expression and spoken word. Everything in prison is bottled up and to have the chance to release your feelings creatively in a safe environment was wonderful. I did do all sorts of courses when I was in prison and they were fine but as soon as you are released you are left a bit to your own devices. That wasn’t the case with imagine if, they followed up and got in touch with my probation officer after I was released. Since I was released imagine if has been a stable presence in my life which has helped me get ready for work again.” Bird on the Wing Graduate


imagine if theatre company acknowledges that prisoners and prison leavers come with a variety of life experiences and in order to offer support in the best possible way, we restrict engagement with our activities to men (including people identifying as being male) and those not on the Sex Offenders’ Register. This is to ensure that our knowledge and experience is both specific and up to date for the people that we serve. We are always happy to direct people that fall outside of this to other organisations that may be able to offer targeted and appropriate support.

If you are interested in joining the Phoenix programme, you can sign up here.



1 Newton, May, Eames & Ahmad, 2019. Economic and social costs of reoffending: Analytical report. Ministry of Justice, London: UK. Available at:
2 Ministry of Justice, 2019. Costs per place and costs per prisoner by individual prison. Ministry of Justice, London: UK. Available at:
3 Full Fact, 2016. Available at:
4 Ministry of Justice, 2013. Transforming Rehabilitation: a summary of evidence on reducing reoffending. Ministry of Justice, London: UK. Available at:
5 Ibid
6 Ministry of Justice, 2018

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