Made in England - The new Ballad of Reading Gaol

John Hegley with a project participant outside HM Prison Reading

The new Ballad of Reading Gaol

Inspired by Oscar Wilde's remarkable poem, 'The Ballads of Reading Gaol', the new Ballad has been written by young offenders with the help of performance poet John Hegley.

John Hegley, the popular performance poet, has been working with prisoners and young offenders on a project called The New Ballad of Reading Gaol.

The project is inspired by Oscar Wilde's remarkable poem, 'The Ballads of Reading Gaol', and has found that poetry is alive and well in the prison.

Reading Gaol is an iconic Victorian prison, now housing nearly 300 18–21 year olds, sited in, but quite separate from, Reading and the surrounding area. The purpose of this project was to bring ballads about these young people'’s landscape and social landscape to people in Berkshire.

John Hegley says: "We've been writing about important steps in your life - that's one exercise I like. Our challenge is to find the right way to work with these chaps and open them up, to do any good."

Read the poems and watch them being performed

This collaboration will engage young offenders in three community residencies, and will also be a broadcast residency where artists Jon Potter, John Hegley to deliver a week of Made in England special programming around St George's Day, 2009.

The residencies will try to strengthen young participants' understanding of their own story, their social landscape and their family. Strengthening social and family ties, and increasing self-awareness and self-worth, can aid reintegration of offenders into their community.

Young people in the criminal justice system often lead a chaotic, unpredictable life. Many mistrust authority. Many have become disengaged from education. Others are just plain scared. All of this makes working with these young people extremely challenging. It's often "one step forward and two steps back". These are young people struggling to understand their story and to move forward positively.

The aim is to help participants understand their lives more and make better choices. They are helped most in this process by the words of their peers.

The new Ballad of Reading Gaol on BBC Berkshire


Skip to top

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.