Bunches of fresh, colourful flowers sat on tables in Christchurch Women’s Prison, ready to be used in a visual arts exercise about art making. This three-day workshop, facilitated by Home Ground, was part of the three-year Creative Arts and Cultural Wellbeing Prison Initiative. 

Wellington-based Home Ground is a creativity and wellbeing programme for women who are in the justice system. It’s one of 12 providers delivering arts programmes in prisons with funding through the Creative Arts and Cultural Wellbeing Prison Initiative, a partnerhip between Manatū Taonga and Ara Poutama Aotearoa the Department of Corrections. Read more about this initiative

Its programme in Christchurch Women’s Prison, Arohata Prison and the community uses a range of arts, including performing arts, photography, creative writing, raranga (weaving), ceramics and taonga puoro (music) to connect, empower and nurture hope among the participants.

Importance of nature and Papatūānuku

Anna Wooles, Creative Producer and Facilitator at Home Ground, says the healing impact of nature and the lack of colour inside a prison environment prompted Home Ground to develop a visual arts workshop using natural materials.

“We hear a lot from women about the importance of nature and Papatūānuku to help them heal and move through trauma,” Anna says. “It’s also an antidote to the sensory-deprived environment they’re living in.”

During the workshop, the women were able to see, smell, touch and make artwork with the flowers. And at the end of the day, they took the artwork they had created back to their cells.

The idea of joining a group programme can be overwhelming for women who haven’t had access to group work for several years, Anna explains.

“After the workshop, one woman said that she went back to her cell feeling calm and grounded after a morning of heightened senses.”

The value of nature is also recognised in the workbooks, developed by Home Ground and published by 5Ever Books. Designed during COVID lockdowns, the workbooks offer a valuable option when workshops cannot be delivered in prisons.

Anna says the workbooks include art from other Home Ground participants to act as inspiration; wellbeing activities; coping techniques; and photos of nature and Papatūānuku (earth mother).

Positive feedback about the workbooks

“We get really positive feedback about the workbooks and it’s always exciting when we get to see their work,” Anna says. “It’s also important for participants to be able to share their work and experience with friends and whānau.

“In the latest workshop, the wāhine received an additional workbook to gift to a whānau member in the lead-up to Christmas.”

In the past, staff shortages and the impact of COVID meant it was challenging to get access to go into the two women’s prisons and deliver workshops, Anna says.

Despite the earlier challenges, Home Ground has so far delivered two workshops in Christchurch Women’s Prison in May and July, and two in Arohata Prison in November.

Some feedback from the participants in Christchurch:

  • "The workshop allowed us to interact with others and have time to be creative, which is something that’s lacking here in prison.”
  • “I learnt to sit in a space with more than five people and engage in a lot more than usual.”
  • "It gives me a feeling of wellbeing and sense of true self.”
  • “It’s a great course for women. There should be regular courses like this. We need to occupy our mind, hands and soul.”
  • “Very enjoyable and interactive. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and would recommend it to others.”
  • “Better than cheese toasties.”

Anna first became involved in Home Ground in 2019 when she was invited to talk to the women as a guest artist about creating the kind of space you want to present your work in.

“I immediately connected with Home Ground’s kaupapa,” Anna says. “This is my dream job because every day, I get to see the impact of the arts on the women we work with. I grew up with four sisters and so I know the strength of women, particularly when they come together as a collective.

In her role at Home Ground, has Anna seen women whose lives have been transformed through the arts?

 “All the time,” she replies. “It’s a combination of the arts and connection to whānau. The shared experience of creating and then gifting your work to friends and whānau provides a positive outlet for meaningful conversations.”

The Home Ground programme in the two women’s prisons will continue until 2025. Along with the other programmes supported through the Creative Arts and Cultural Wellbeing Prison Initiative, the Home Ground programme is being evaluated by research companies Point and Associates Ltd and Awa Associates.

“Having access to significant funding over three years feels like the arts are being taking seriously and that as artists, our work is being supported,” Anna says. “The evaluation process is extremely valuable and I hope the findings will cement arts programmes across all the justice facilities.”

Connecting through art and nature


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