Prisons & Women's Centres

Clean Break runs high quality theatre programmes in prisons across the UK and in women’s centres across London.

Clean Break is an experienced provider of theatre programmes in women’s prisons, psychologically informed planned environments (PIPE units) and women’s centres, having delivered residencies, workshops and performances across the UK over the past four decades.

Our workshops break down barriers to learning and create positive outcomes for women, including:

  • Increased confidence
  • Improved group working abilities
  • New skills and interests
  • Improved focus and motivation
  • A sense of achievement
  • Benefits to mental and physical wellbeing

We have a team of highly skilled artists who deliver these outcomes, maintain high retention rates and, for women in prison, help prepare them for release.

“It’s been better than any other programme I have ever done because it’s real. This is what resettlement should be.”

Our unique approach motivates women who have been failed by formal education, by offering workshops and projects that are carefully designed to meet their needs and interests. Our workshops and projects are accessible to women with a broad range of personal and educational backgrounds, including women with specific needs or literacy difficulties, and require no previous theatre experience. All our practitioners are trained in trauma-informed practice, and in working effectively with vulnerable women.

For many years we worked under a prison education contract with Novus and in Yorkshire we continue to work in partnership with the York St John University Prison Partnership Project. We are currently eligible to tender for contracts under the DPS.

Contact us about our work

If you are interested in Clean Breaking working with a women’s centre or prison you are connected with, please get in touch.

What does Clean Break do in prisons?

"It’s the best I’ve seen the women work together in all my twenty five years of being a prison officer”

Clean Break’s work in prisons includes theatre-based programmes run by highly skilled drama practitioners and playwrights, production tours and workshops, as well as collaborative work with universities and other arts charities, including Music in Prisons (The Irene Taylor Trust).

Writing for Theatre is our three-day creative writing programme, where women develop their own material to be performed by actors to an invited audience at the end of the three days.

Our longer Theatre Making Residency is an opportunity for women to develop skills and talents by working together as a group to generate stories and ideas for a short play.

Clean Break productions tell the often untold stories of criminalised women, so it is important that our plays reach audiences inside prisons. Alongside touring productions in women’s prisons, we hold accompanying workshops on the themes raised in our plays. These workshops enable women to develop their own creative responses to the themes and express their artistic voice.

Covid-19 Challenges

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the lives of women in prison, with 23 hour a day cell lockdowns becoming the norm for thousands of women. Access to prisons was not possible for most of this time, which meant we were not able to continue our regular programme of work in prisons. To overcome this barrier, we sought new ways of engaging with women in prison.

Write 2 Connect was a letter writing project, connecting women through prison walls when visits were cancelled and connection with others was severely restricted for those in prison.

Voices from Prison is an e-book we created from pieces written by women in prison during the pandemic, some of the pieces were also performed and made into a short film for online audiences.

During lockdowns we also worked with WayOut TV to screen writing-skills workshops into cells, looking at creativity, imagination and futures.

For our 2021 production Typical Girls, we were not able to bring the play physically into prisons. To work around this, we utilised technology and held screenings of the play in two women’s prisons.

While the challenges of delivering work in prisons is still present, we are working to ensure that we will be able to connect with women in prison again in person, as safely as possible.

What does Clean Break do in women’s centres?

“Made me feel a sense of achievement. [it was a] friendly, open, non-judgemental environment.”

Clean Break runs weekly sessions for women on probation and attending women’s centres across London through a contract with Ministry of Justice and MOPAC, led by Advance Minerva in the West, North and East of London and by Women in Prison in the South.

Women attend sessions led by Clean Break’s artists, in storytelling, singing, drama, performance poetry and creative writing, which complement the range of activities and support on offer at the centres.

Watch this video to find out more about our work with women’s centres:

Why Women’s Centres?

At Clean Break, we envision a world where women can live free from criminalisation. Women experience criminalisation for many reasons, often which relate to disadvantage and challenging life circumstances.

We know that women’s centres can provide the support and advocacy that women who are at risk of criminalisation need, which prisons are unable to provide. With this support, the risk of criminalisation can be reduced, and women’s lives can be transformed while still being part of our communities. Examples of the types of services available at women’s centres are:

  • Support around domestic abuse and other forms of gender based violence
  • Drug and alcohol support
  • Advocacy support around housing, benefits and debt
  • Mental health support
  • Creative interventions and opportunities - which Clean Break provides.

In prison, women are displaced away from their communities and families, and are not offered the same specialist support that they could receive from a women’s centre. The knock-on effect of this displacement not only affects women’s lives, but also the lives of their children, families and wider communities.

We can see the benefits of investing in specialist community based services for women in the statistics around Clean Break's work. Independent research by the New Philanthropy Capital estimates that, unlike the national reoffending rate of 23.4%, just 5% of women completing a Clean Break course reoffend.

The same research estimates that for every £1 invested in Clean Break, £4.57 per year is recouped from the public purse, solely through reduced reoffending.

For these reasons, we are supporting Women in Prison’s campaign to stop the 500 new prison spaces which are currently being planned for the women’s prison estate in the UK, and instead invest in the specialist services which women’s centres provide.

Click here to join us in the campaign

You can read about why there should be more investment in women’s centres in the Corston Report (2007) as well as the Corston Report 10 Years on (2017). The Prison Reform Trust have also presented the evidence on why women’s centres work in this one-page document.

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