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

What is it?



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


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


The support includes:

• A weekly meeting or phone call from imagine if to provide signposting and problem solving around mental health issues, housing, accessing benefits and other practical issues which they may be struggling with.
• A clear route of progression, that takes an individual from participation, through training and into work experience and paid roles.
• Appropriate referrals to relevant support organisations.
• Arranging for key third sector support agencies to meet individuals and groups.
• Weekly theatre workshops working towards a yearly public performance with other opportunities to share their work an audience.
• Monthly, free arts-based social events organised and funded by imagine if.
• Tailored training in public speaking, peer-mentoring and employment skills.
• Paid opportunities as peer mentors and as lived experience experts, to represent imagine if at sector events and test new work for criminal justice settings.
• Paid opportunities to present own artistic work and participate in film and theatre work.

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.


• 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 people with convictions to engage in the arts.
• 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 2020 – 2021: Film Experience

In 2020-2021, Phoenix will focus on involving Graduates in the production of a new short film. The film will be written in consultation with those on the programme, as Graduates will help professional writer Francesca Joy to shape the themes, narrative and characters of the fictional piece. Further paid roles will also be offered in the production stages, 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 (the pre-cursor to Phoenix) 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

You can read about how imagine if started as an organisation in this guide by the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (on page 29). 


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

Join the mailing list

For the latest news, events and special offers on tickets

I understand that by joining the mailing list I am sharing my details with Imagine If, and that these details will not be passed on to any third party. For full details see our privacy policy.

We use Cookies - By using this site or closing this you agree to our Cookies policy.