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Academics secure research funding for Big Bookshare in pilot prison project

Books displayed in a prison library

Researchers at the University of Wolverhampton have secured £20,000 funding for a pilot impact project that will benefit prison inmates. 

Arts Council England has awarded the University’s Novel Perceptions research team the money for the Big Bookshare – a project which draws on groundbreaking University of Wolverhampton research about reading habits to boost the wellbeing and employment prospects of prisoners. 

The mass book club will see 1,000 prisoners reading a novel that will be chosen with the help of psychological and sociological research, aided by computational methodology.  Creative and Professional Writing Lecturer at the University, Dr Rob Francis, will help design creative writing exercises for the prisoners and organise workshops which will run alongside videos, podcasts and promotional material. 

The Big Bookshare is a pilot project and will take place in four prisons in Kent - HMP Swaleside, HMP Elmley, HMP Maidstone and HMP East Sutton. 

Sebastian Groes, Professor in English Literature in the University’s School of Humanities, said: “Novel Perceptions received £300,000 from the Arts & Humanities Research Council in 2020 and is the flagship research project of the Centre for Transnational and Transcultural Research (CTTR) and School of Humanities.  

“After doing public engagement work for 18 months, we have gathered over 25,000 respondents to our Book Book Review survey and the team is now moving to the next stage: the analysis of our data using sociological, psychological and computational methods.  

“The Big Bookshare is a new engagement project that aims to disseminate Novel Perceptions research in UK prison with a view to creating impact by increasing the volume and diversity of reading in prisons, encouraging prisoners to share and discuss recommendations which will boost literacy, improve wellbeing and foster communities where prisoners feel confident accessing a range of cultural experiences.” 

Victoria Barnett, Prison Library Development Manager at the four Kent prisons, who is working with the research team on the project, said: “Learnings from this project will help our team of prison librarians plan and run cultural activities that engage prison communities. Prison librarians are currently facing particular challenges due to prison staffing shortages, which make it hard for prisoners to access physical prison libraries.  

“One key priority of this pilot is to find ways to engage prisoners in literary and cultural activities throughout the prison, and to explore ways of using digital technology to run engagement activities. The ultimate goal is to impact on the prisoners’ self-perception and to change their thinking about the world. In the evaluation phase of our project, we will ensure that learnings are shared among prison librarians at other institutions through the CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) Prison Libraries Group, and through the wider CILIP network. In HMP Swaleside, we plan to make extensive use of the Prisoner intranet. 

“These facilities are currently being tested and the project will provide additional data on the benefits that they can provide to inmates. Demonstrating beneficial applications of these technologies will help make a case for rolling them out in other institutions.” 

 Find out more about the University's research in the University’s eZene, Research Matters - showcasing our research successes and news from the sector.  

For more information about courses in the School of Humanities, check out the University website or register for one of our forthcoming Open Days.     




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