Sir Richard Stilgoe wanted to bring the Orpheus outreach programme into prisons and was introduced to Peter Dawson, former Governor of HMP High Down, who believed in the therapeutic importance of music making in their secure estate. Both of these enlightened gentleman had a shared aim:

"We want the people we work with to learn how to live without us. We believe this project will challenge all who take part to explore what they can achieve - individually and together. At the end of it, everyone will have learned something. We believe some will be inspired to reassess how they can take control of their own future."

Thanks to some initial funding from the Michael Varah Memorial Fund in 2011, 'The Birdsong Project' was born. The initial project was a great success and was described by Salla Varah, Chair of Trustees of the fund as:

"Humbling, exhilarating, hugely professional and joyful equal in measure."

Following the pilot project, The Monument Trust provided funding to continue the progamme for a further three years. We have run The Bird Song Project at HMP Highdown, HMP Bronzefield, Feltham Young Offenders Institution and Medway Secure Training Centre.


"I was a prisoner at HMP Bronzefield when the Orpheus Centre did the Bird Song project in February 2015. I wanted to contact you to say that the week I spent with your students was one of the best I have ever had and is one of the few reasons I am glad I received a custodial sentence. The project taught me many things including that even with a history, mental health issues and a criminal record I am a person who deserves to be happy. You gave me so much confidence and from the support I received from the students and staff at Orpheus I gained enough confidence to sing a solo in front of the crowd. What you do is amazing and I can't thank you enough for the week that changed my perspective on many things. because of the Bird Song project I am a better person." - Prisoner HMP Bronzefield

From my first outreach at the Limes I couldn't talk - I found it hard to talk to them. From my experience at Medway, I can understand them better and I know why they are there. I enjoyed working with them and interacting and knowing that I could help them." - Morag, Orpheus Student

Working at Bronzefield Prison with Orpheus students has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The Orpheus students brought out the best in the prisoners enabling them to feel empowered and daring them to step up in both song-writing and performing. I feel there were so many breakthroughs for all of us during these weeks and the transformation in all of us from the start to the end of the weeks has been quite remarkable.”Sam Chaplin,Tutor"

Please find some examples of our work with HMP Downview below: 

If you are interested in attending a Bird Song performance or have an idea for an outreach partnership please contact our Outreach Coordinator Gaynor Thurbin [email protected].