04 Mar 2020

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Women at the centre of Home Ground creativity programme

A programme designed by and for its participants is using the arts and creativity to address the challenges faced by women in New Zealand’s justice system and their whānau.

The success of Kahukura, a two-week pilot project held in June 2019, has resulted in the delivery of the Home Ground programme and three projects – with a fourth due to happen in Wellington later this year.

Jacqui Moyes, the Director of Home Ground, says women in the justice system often need a navigation service: ways to find out what’s available to them, non-judgemental support to connect to the community, and opportunities to build trust.

“With Kahukura, we focused on co-designing a creativity programme that women found relevant and engaging,” she says. “We also asked them to reflect on their experience and the skills they had to be leaders in their own whānau, become active citizens and help direct the future of the Home Ground programme.”

Wellbeing was a key focus of Home Ground and Anita Grafton, an experienced clinical advisor who specialises in addictions and mental health, was present throughout the pilot and subsequent projects.

In addition, arts practitioners – writers, performers, a visual artist, musician and photographer – collaborated on the programme. 

Underpinning Home Ground are the three areas of focus in the Department of Corrections’ strategy for women, Wahine e rere ana ki te pae hou: Women’s Strategy 2017–2021: providing interventions and services that meet the women’s needs; and managing them in ways that are trauma-informed, empowering, and reflect the importance of relationships to women.

Statistics published in the strategy show that for women in prison, around two-thirds have been a victim of family violence, rape and/or sexual assault; three-quarters have mental health issues; and more than half have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jacqui says Home Ground's vision is for the women to discover their value and purpose through the power of creativity. “We want the women to be able to create better lives for themselves, their whānau and future generations. 

“We work in a trauma-informed and empowering way that also demonstrates the importance of women working with other women. Having a trauma-informed clinical advisor available throughout the projects ensure any risks are managed safely and in a timely manner.”

Collaboration, partnerships and evaluation are essential to the success of Home Ground, Jacqui says. Funded by the Department of Corrections and Creative New Zealand, Home Ground also includes the building of strong relationships with Wellington Probation Services; various philanthropic organisations; arts organisations and social agencies; arts practitioners; and the participants. 

Each of the three projects has been evaluated and Jacqui says the feedback has been “surprising, thoughtful and always a good reminder to listen to what the women have to say about their own situation”. For example:

  • “Love your guys’ work. Thank you for continuing to inspire and support me. I aspire to make a difference like this one day.”
  • “I can’t fully express in words the impact that being listened to, heard, believed and understood has changed the way I do things in my everyday life. What seemed simple has impacted and helped to resolve complexities in my life. The ability to express without fear, judgement or harsh/negative criticism has allowed me to share and explore parts of me I’ve always had but never recognised.”
  • “I love that I feel our ideas and opinions actually really mattered. That we got to create and present some amazing and authentic pieces.”
  • “I think the beauty of this project is that although it is collaborative, it also works on a deeply personal level, unique to each individual without the project being designed on an individual level.”
  • “This experience Identified new opportunities for me by meeting visiting artists, speaking to Corrections staff, meeting the other women on this journey, by meeting me again.”
  • “Every day was different and hit on subjects that I had held in for so long and mattered a lot – baggage that was heavy became lighter.”

The three projects that have been completed are:

  • Project Tahi, which took place in September /October 2019 in Lower Hutt and provided creativity and wellbeing workshops for nine women in the justice system. Women were encouraged to tap into their creative talents and create artworks while reflecting on what their life experience can offer. 
  • Project Rua, a four-week project delivered in Arohata Upper Prison. It used music, dance, visual arts and creative writing to devise a performance for the 2020 Arohata Christmas Concert that told the women’s stories. The arts practitioners worked with the women and supported them to create this show.
  • Project Toru, an eight-week project delivered in February/March 2020. One group worked in the community and a second group in Arohata Prison. The two groups will continue to collaborate on a creative project, leading to an exhibition later in the year.

Jacqui says the arts practitioners involved in Home Ground are “generous and authentic” as they respond to the women and share their creative process. “Home Ground wouldn’t be possible without everyone’s willingness to contribute to this creative community.

“Thanks to our funders, especially Creative New Zealand, Home Ground can provide access to experienced artists and the space for women to explore their own arts practice.

“For some women, it is the first time they have had this opportunity. They take this back to their whānau, and this is how we normalise the involvement of arts and culture in everyday life.”