Jonathan Hollow writes:
We are delighted to share our 2020-21 annual report and accounts with you.
I’ve been very proud to be Chair of Good Vibrations, so it’s with some regret that I pen my last overview of our annual progress, as always on behalf of myself and all my fellow trustees. But I had always thought that about four years was the right duration for a chair’s leadership, and I’m delighted that I will be able to continue as a trustee under our excellent new chair, Nick Jolliffe.
The year this annual report covers has been bittersweet too. Like everything everywhere, it has been dominated by the pandemic. For perfectly sound health reasons prisons have been forced to limit prisoners’ contact with outside organisations in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
This meant that one of our most important delivery settings has been almost completely closed over the time this report covers. Quite apart from the frustration for us as an organisation, we have been heartbroken to think of so many prisoners locked in their cells for almost all the time, deprived of human contact, stimulus, and encouragement to find new interests and skills on their journey back to the outside world.
When we met as trustees at the beginning of the pandemic, the unknowns were so many that we wondered whether we would need to shutter the charity, furlough staff, and wait until the world righted itself. In fact, our worst fears were not realised. Although there has been a gaping hole in delivery, we have in fact managed to make good use of the time and space the pandemic forced upon us.
First of all, we were blessed by the fantastic generosity and pragmatism of our funders. We contacted them to see what stance they would take now that almost all our traditional delivery locations were closed to us. I want to thank them for the flexibility they offered. Some allowed us to defer funding into the following financial year, when there was an expectation that delivery could resume. Some allowed us to change what we used their funding for. This enabled us to use digital channels to deliver joy, creativity and even collaboration through the use of the gamelan and Indonesian shadow puppetry. Some even offered us additional funds to help us navigate these uncertain times.
This prompted an explosion of creativity and talent from our staff and associates, in media we had not previously asked them to explore. Their mastery of the technology, and the vibrant uses they put it to, underlines just how creative an organisation Good Vibrations is at its core. You will find many examples of those brilliant creative works in the rest of this report. I strongly encourage you to find and watch at least one or two of them.
As for face-to-face-delivery, we were fortunate that in some settings, for at least some of the time, we were able to safely continue to deliver the power of the communal music-making. We did weekly face-to-face work in Nottingham, Wormwood Scrubs Prison, and Bethlem Royal Hospital.
Before the year began, we had been in conversations with the BBC about our Radio 4 appeal. We weren’t sure what the implications of the pandemic were for this, but they turned out to be almost zero. Not only were we able to work with the extraordinary Benjamin Zephaniah, the ideal spokesman for the power of art to transform prison lives. But more than that, when we broadcast in August, we found that Radio 4 listeners were as generous as they have ever been, and took us to their hearts.
The resulting total of £26,536 raised was a memorable milestone for our charity, and has led to other boosts to individual giving
I am also extremely grateful to the anonymous donor who gave a substantial sum to be used as a hardship fund, in case our associates were unable to access the help they needed from other, public sources during the pandemic.
As trustees, we have been able to work with the leadership to continue to develop and strengthen the charity during the pandemic. The main fruit of this work was a revised and updated strategy document to take us to the end of our strategy period in 2023.
This reaffirmed our view that although there are many settings where our work can have an impact, our work in prisons is and always will be central to our mission. We renewed our ambition to increase the number of people we help in this setting, and to increase the depth and significance of the sessions we deliver to them.
But we have simultaneously begun a major digital project: to create an open-access digital gamelan, which could be used online and offline, in a variety of settings that includes prisons. This is an exciting development with many new possibilities for our work.
Two other new themes in this strategic review were: deepening and sharpening our approach to diversity and inclusion; and responding appropriately to the challenges of sustainability and the climate emergency. They are impulses we are taking into this strategy period, and still working on. As trustees, we certainly don’t have all the answers, but one thing I’m delighted about is the way that the use of Zoom democratised our strategy awaydays. It brought a much wider range of passionate and informed voices into our debates. I’m sure that approach will continue.
If you are reading this report, you are generously supporting Good Vibrations through your interest and engagement. I want to offer my thanks to everyone who has continued to “will us on” during this very challenging year.
None of us can wait to be back in the full flow of delivery, in all the different settings we found commonplace before the pandemic. We hope to be able to deliver far more face to face activity again in 2021-22. People in institutional settings, particularly prisons, need the stimulus and creative warmth of art and music more than ever before.