RNCM professional placement – working with TiPP

As part of her third year Professional Placement, vocal student Ruby Hendry spent time with Manchester-based charity TiPP, providing arts education to inmates at two prisons in the North West.

While Lockdown restrictions meant that the placement was cut short, Ruby still found the experience incredibly valuable to both her professional and personal development. Here, she shares her thoughts on working at HMP Thorn Cross and HMP Style:

As part of the RNCM Professional Placement programme I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with TiPP Participatory Arts, a charity based in Manchester that provides arts education within prisons and secure institutions in and around the North West. With them, I spent time in two prisons that both offered a very different but nonetheless enjoyable experience: HMP Thorn Cross, a men’s open prison, and HMP Styal, a women’s prison where I worked with women recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

When I arrived at Thorn Cross for the first of my three sessions, my expectations of what I might find were modelled mostly on prison TV dramas! Metal detectors, armed police and being searched on arrival were just some of the things I had imagined. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I joined most of these sessions as a participant and I really enjoyed learning from my placement providers Rachel and Sarah and letting go of all my preconceptions as I became more comfortable within the environment. My placement was near the end of the year so we spent some time rewriting the 12 Days of Christmas, with each participant creating their own verse. The men were super receptive and there was an endless stream of banter and jokes each week from start to finish, which meant I began to really look forward to Wednesday evenings!

The dynamic at HMP Styal was a bit different as the women were much calmer and more reserved. Most of the things we did with them involved relaxing craft activities and discussions, but it was here that I had my first taste of leading a session. Initially I had planned this to be around some basic harmony exercises involving folk tunes, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that things don’t always go to plan. A vital skill of any facilitator is to be able to change tactic very quickly when your participants just aren’t engaging with you.

The women had originally told me they wanted to sing some more popular music, so by the end of the session I abandoned my original plan and we sang an a cappella version of Adele’s Make You Feel My Love. This ended up being a very emotional experience for everyone involved – including me. It was one of the first times where I really realised how music, especially live music, can have such a profound effect on people and how I take it for granted every day. It also showed me just how important the work of organisations such as TiPP is and how fortunate I am as a student to have the chance to experience the work that they do first hand.

Throughout TiPP’s history, the teaching and training of the next generation of practitioners has formed a core part of our work. Our unique position within the higher education sector as well as being highly respected within the arts and criminal justice world allows us to offer invaluable, on the job training experiences for students and we are delighted to be involved with the RNCM. Rachel Graham, TiPPs musical project director

Sadly, due to Covid-19, I didn’t manage to complete all the hours I had set out for my placement, but during the short time I spent with TiPP, I learnt just how valuable the arts can be and how much they can mean to people who don’t experience them in their everyday lives. I also realised how important it is for artists to share their talents and skills with others. This placement offered me a new outlook on my life and the wider society around me, and gave me a deeper connection to my own music-making, something that I have come to realise I am so lucky to have.

4 August 2020