Sara interviewed by BBC Music Matters for International Women’s Day 2023

Lullaby Project pilot at Praxis Community Projects, photographer; Micha Theiner Lullaby Project pilot at Praxis Community Projects, photographer; Micha Theiner

Our Artistic Director Sara Lee will be featured on a special programme for BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters celebrating International Women’s Day, to be broadcast on Saturday 6th March (more info here).

International Women’s Day 

March 8th is International Women’s Day, so to celebrate let’s look back over some of the work we’ve done with women over the years! The Irene Taylor Trust was of course set up in memory of an inspirational woman, has been led since the beginning by our amazing Artistic Director Sara Lee and is strategically guided by a female-majority Trustee Board.

In Prison

We’ve been running projects with women in prison since 1995. As well as our 5-day Music in Prisons model, this has included some special projects developed specifically for women:

Beyond The Secret Door

What began as an idea born from a conversation with a group of women at HMP Askham Grange reached a fantastic conclusion in the spring of 2003. During a project in 2000 a number of women were discussing their children’s response to music and how songs and nursery rhymes can play a big a part in our early years. We decided to develop a project to help women on the inside to connect with their children on the outside by creating a series of songs with them in mind.

Alongside writer Peter Spafford and artist and photographer Lizzie Coombes, we worked in HMPs Askham Grange, Low Newton and Durham, spending a period of time with the women generating ideas for the songs, putting the lyrics down on paper and later setting them to music. The quality of each song reflects the amount of work each individual put into the project, resulting in a wonderfully original and subsequently award-winning (British Composer Awards 2003) songbook.

“The Music in Prisons team orchestrated this without letting anyone feel like their ideas didn’t matter.  Everyone who participated in this project has at least one line of a song that they can say ‘that was the line that I created’.” Beyond The Secret Door contributor

A Picture of Me

A Picture of Me was a special project which took place in 2006.Our skilled music-team (Sara, Nick and Rex) were joined by writer Peter Spafford and artist Lizzie Coombes at HMPYOI Holloway to help a group of women prisoners to create a beautiful book and accompanying CD, which contained a powerful mixture of music and spoken word piece, exploring issues surrounding imprisonment for women from their perspective, in their own words.

“I hope this book is going to touch people’s hearts, that they can identify with the words. That some of the words might inspire them, put a smile of their face and give them hope in difficult times. Just like a guardian angel.” A Picture of Me contributor

The women working on the project hoped to create something that might help support other women facing similar difficulties to their own. Through music, creative writing, photography and collage, the women chose to deal with a wide range of topics. They wanted to talk honestly about their negative experiences such as self-harm, abuse, rape, separation from family and the loneliness and isolation of being in prison, but they also wanted to share the many positive things which kept them going, as well as their dreams and aspirations for the future.

Tuned In

In 2014 Music in Prisons and Helix Arts collaborated with women in prison to develop a resource that uses creative approaches within criminal justice settings to support women prisoners to address their offending behaviours. Women from HMP Low Newton worked with creative writers, musicians and designers to create and record songs and prose on a range of issues, chosen by them, and these have been brought together as a resource to help others. Tuned In is aimed at women:

  • In custody, serving long-term sentences, to provide greater engagement with rehabilitation;
  • Due for release, to give them confidence to make the transition back into the community; and
  • On community resettlement programmes, to boost resilience.

Tuned In seeks to provide an intervention by women for women, using their authentic stories. Women re-offend for different reasons to men; they have different issues and triggers, yet exist in a system designed for men. Tuned In is specifically designed to address the needs of women. For more information about using Tuned In, contact ITT Artistic Director Sara Lee.

In the community

Sounding Out & Making Tracks

In 2012 we began running two new interlinked community-based programmes to complement our work in prisons; Sounding Out, a training programme for ex-prisoners who we have previously worked with inside prison, which includes work placement as Support Musicians on Making Tracks; our programme for young people in challenging circumstances (including those engaging with Youth Offending Teams or not in education, employment or training).


Highlights from our community work featuring women include performing in our 25th Birthday Show, featuring on our Changing The Record podcast, a special cross-arts collaboration to create Bridges, a new piece celebrating our 21st anniversary; performing at the Union Chapel; representing ITT at a conference in Columbia on Music and Social Transformation; taking on the roles of ‘Young Producer’ to put on live music events for other young people who have completed the Making Tracks programme.

“This is what the Irene Taylor Trust is all about; not numbers and statistics, but being a platform for music lovers to develop both their musical ability, and their ability to make themselves a better future. We all experience ‘breakthrough’ moments, but the Irene Taylor Trust have provided me with some of my favourite ones. I couldn’t be more proud, and happy for all the performers, for breaking through all the obstacles,” Helen, Young Producer

The Lullaby Project

Building on three years of experience in co-delivering Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute’s Lullaby Project with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), in the summer of 2017 the Irene Taylor Trust worked in collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Resound (RPO) to bring the project to the UK. Over the course of two months, our project leaders worked with young refugee and migrant mothers in the WINGS group at Praxis Community Projects and fathers in a London prison.

The Lullaby Project invites participants to work with professional musicians to write a personal lullaby for their children. The aim of the project is to strengthen the bond between parent and child through a creative arts activity. The project can also be a way for parents to explore and express their emotions in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

“When my son listened to the lullaby he calmed down and started listening. He is a new person when he hears it,” Lullaby Project contributor feedback

Artistic Director Sara Lee was part of the team delivering the project and had this to say about the first sharing at Praxis Community Projects on World Refugee Day:

“When helping all the different people we work with create the music they want to write, my mind sometimes wanders onto ‘bigger picture’ things. Today I was reminded that despite all the unfathomable events which have happened in London over the past few months, there is no other city in which I’d rather live. In the main because of all the wonderful people you meet if you walk round with your eyes and heart open. It doesn’t matter where they’ve come from or how they got to be here, they are people, and a very, very important part of our city and its rich culture. Being part of such a vibrant and varied community reminds me why I love London and how crucial it is for all of us to remain connected to a wider world.” Sara Lee

Listen to the tracks recorded with the WINGS group at Praxis Community Projects here.

More recently we have gone on to reprise the Lullaby Project with mothers with experience of the criminal justice system (in partnership with Clean Break), and experiencing homelessness with YMCA Trinity and Open Doors Hull.

Listen to some of the brilliant original music by women from our projects

If you like what we do, please consider helping us to keep doing it by supporting our work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: