Art Exhibition Gives Hope for Prisoners and People Experiencing Homelessness

Artwork produced by men serving a sentence at HMP Leicester is being proudly displayed at Kings Coffee House, Holy Trinity Leicester’s cafe, to raise money to buy sleeping bags and care packages for people experiencing homelessness in the city.

The exhibition has been put together by the Hope Art Project, led by Carl Beeley, who has worked as a tutor in prisons for 10 years, and is now based in HMP Leicester. When Carl approached Revd Elaine Sutherland about hosting an exhibition, “We were very keen”, she says, “given the church’s involvement with HMP Leicester over the years and the work of HTL’s Compassion Ministry in supporting ex-offenders.”

The idea of the Hope Art Project came to Carl in 2020 when, during the Covid-19 pandemic, “prisoners were locked up for 23 hours a day, and had very little contact with anyone. Food was passed through their door; they had no access to education, the library, church, or the gym and only a brief spell in the exercise yard. Mental health was at an all-time low, so I decided to organise an art pack for each prisoner.”

Providing each inmate with paint, brushes and a canvas, Carl asked them to paint something around the themes of hope, charity and faith, with the plan to exhibit the artwork and donate the proceeds to charity. Having a creative outlet has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing, and comments from the men who have taken part certainly testify to that. “It has given me some self-belief and something positive to focus on”, said one. “It reignited my creative spark and helped with the mental trappings of boredom”, said another.

The project is now in its fourth year and when it came to deciding where to host this year’s exhibition, Carl says Kings Coffee House was an obvious choice. “Many staff use the coffee shop”, he explains, because of its close proximity to the prison, and “HTL has such great links with the homeless - the cause we want to help this year.”

“Over the years, donations for the artwork have amounted to hundreds of pounds and we have been able to help Children in Need, MIND, and Therapy Dogs.” This year, the money raised will be used to buy sleeping bags and make care packages for people experiencing homelessness. This is especially pertinent as, in the UK, around 600 people each month become homeless on leaving prison, making cycles of reoffending much more likely. This is something the Leicester Homelessness Charter, founded by the diocese, is working to address .

But, Carl emphasises, “whatever funds are generated will be a bonus” as the main aim behind the exhibition is to support mental health – both in the act of painting and in the positive impact it has. “To report back to the artists and tell them they have contributed to a wonderful exhibition and generated money for the homeless in Leicester will give them a huge lift and inspire them to go on and do wonderful things in their lives, and continue to paint.”

“In donating their artwork”, Revd Elaine adds, “the imprisoned men have the encouragement of giving back to society, being heard and raising awareness of poor mental health. 

Because the theme of the exhibition is hope, Revd Elaine also thinks it serves as an important Christian witness. “Although the Hope Art Project was not specifically Christian, it speaks of hope in the darkest of places”, she says. “In partnering with this project, Kings Coffee House and Holy Trinity Leicester are witnessing to the prison community of the hope that following Jesus brings. We believe this positively models grace and acceptance to prisoners, their families, friends and wider society.”

First published on: 9th May 2024
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