Under the imaginative leadership of the MFD Manager and staff, the Media Centre has made great strides. The TV course now lasts for 20 weeks; the qualification for passing it is nationally recognised,and equates to two passes at A Level. Work has also been done to improve post-sentence guidance and supervision. MFD already provides a 12-week placement for an ex-prisoner as a production assistant, and is looking to build on this. Amazingly in our view, such has been the success of MFD’s projects at Downview, ex-prisoners are keen to remain in touch with the company and they have even formed an alumni association!
Tracey and Lisa are both doing great and have excelled at everything they have been asked to do proving to be a real asset to the Ginger team.
Emma Blackmore, Producer (on the women who are currently on work placements with Ginger Productions)
The girls are doing a fantastic job and it’s good to hear that they love it here as we really love having them.
Genna, Development Producer (on the women who are currently on work placements with Ginger Productions)
They have hugely impressed us all. We already include them fully in everything we do in terms of development, have them along to meetings etc., so there will be more of that. Lisa shows a fantastic flair for organisation, (already revolutionised our kit room) so I suspect she’ll be working alongside our head of production. Tracy is great in the edits, so more of that, plus
Ed Stobart, Managing Director (on the women who are currently on work placements with Ginger Productions)
When Ed Stobart, head of the independent Ginger Productions, attended the launch of the Cultural Diversity Network Pledge in April he experienced something of a eureka moment. Instead of talking about changing the make-up of the TV workforce, he decided to do something himself.
Sitting in the room he realised that at work he was nearly always surrounded by people who had much the same life experiences as him. “When I thought about it, even the people who come to me asking for work experience are filtered, whether by the school or college they went to. Looking around the room, even [the other delegates] were those kinds of people,” he says.
After receiving a letter from one of the female prisoners, he decided to visit the media course held at Downview, a category B women’s prison in Sutton, Surrey, accompanied by the most initially sceptical of his colleagues, with a view to taking on some inmates for work-experience placements. He was instantly impressed by their energy and commitment.
“Basically not all of them had much formal education but they had to do the equivalent of two A-levels in 20 weeks for their course and I thought if they were that focused then that was a pretty good job interview,” he says. “They were so passionate and were moving spirits in a prison TV channel called Time Television.”
Eventually one inmate, Trudy, was offered work experience, followed by Louise and Emma, all of whom were on the resettlement wing, meaning that they were able to do day releases, starting at 8am and finishing at 8pm (later extended by the prison authorities to 10pm). This meant that they could work the kind of hours of other staff at the production company before returning to what they all call the “big house” in Sutton.
Emma was first through the door and proved to be a “whirlwind”, unintimidated by the corporate facade of the offices and perfectly at home in the Ginger family, which Stobart says has not lost the devil-may-care attitude of the Chris Evans era.
“She was determined to get it right and make a big effort,” adds Stobart, who says of the three women: “I have never seen anyone make the most of an opportunity like they have.”
Broadcasters involved in their projects have been told of the women’s background, but usually their status as prisoners “has not arisen”, says Stobart.
“At work none of us have given it a second thought and they are regular members of the team,” he adds.
Trudy, Louise and Emma have put “invaluable” work into an ITV4 documentary called Take a Seat, about a tandem ride from Alaska to South America, which received a Special Jury Mention at the Banff TV festival. All three had important credits on the show, and they have also worked on the Adrenaline Junkie shows Ginger has made for ITV. They have also helped out on Pink Saris, Kim Longinotto’s 90-minute film for Channel 4 about vigilante housewives in India, due for a theatrical release soon.
The trio have also proved useful for a forthcoming series called Love Life and Prison for the Biography Channel, about the effects of prison on relationships.
“The great thing is they have come up with really original ideas,” says Stobart. “They really opened our eyes to the fact that there is a disproportionate Romany population in prison, for example, and that helped our work with the prison series.”
It is a condition of their licence that they cannot be paid if they are more than a year from release. Emma and Louise could be paid now for their work, but the prison authorities would rather money did not change hands.
Stobart now hopes to give a similar opportunity to a Pentonville inmate and said that the work-experience scheme with Downview will continue “indefinitely”. He also hopes to give all three women work when they are released at various times in the future (Trudy and Emma will be released soon).
“They have already been with us, they know us and we know them and they have got skills that will be useful for us. I will endeavour to pay them as much as I can afford when they get out, and pay them for the work they do then,” adds Stobart. “They deserve nothing less.”
[Unlocking Potential, by Ben Dowell as appeared in The Guardian]
The Media House is also featured as one of the successful arts and media projects outlined in the 2011 Prison Reform Trust research ‘Time Well Spent’ — you can see it here.