HMP Edinburgh supports learning through literacy and creative writing volunteers

Since 2011, Edinburgh Napier University has teamed up with Fife College, one of the Scottish Prison Service’s learning providers, to complement existing classes at HMP Edinburgh’s learning centre. University students studying towards an English literature degree support learning centre activities by offering one-to-one literacy or creative writing exercises, once a week for six weeks.

One student at HMP Edinburgh comments on how she benefited from classes at the learning centre and working with a university student volunteer: “I have had a problem since I was a child at school. I am not good at reading and writing. So when I was at school the teachers and the other children just thought I was stupid or thick or a dunce; you know all the things children say when you can’t read or write. And the teacher would just put you to the back of the class. But years later it was discovered that I was dyslexic. By that time I had become very good at disguising that I could not read or write so I would say I can’t see, I haven’t got my glasses or I have hurt my hand or wrist- you know all the lies you will tell to cover up that you are not able to fill in forms so when I came in here I decided to do education. So the first class I went to was English and my teacher Lesley was so nice it gave me the courage to say I had a problem with my reading and writing. Then the students from Edinburgh Napier University came and one helped me in the class which was very good because it gave you one-to-one education. I have learned a lot by coming to the class here. I never used to write letters or poetry or read a lot, but now I have the confidence to do more.”

The student volunteer adds: “I found her very eager to engage with her exercises. She said that if the chance were offered, she would be at the centre every day. I think that we got along well and each of us found it easy to talk with the other. She was able to inform me of things I didn’t know and vice versa. Looking back over my experience with those who chose to spend their time writing, I can perceive that for some people, the sense of being incarcerated makes it almost necessary for there to be scope for imaginative exercises. I think that the provision of such services in prison is vital as people are able to avoid mental stagnation and occupy themselves, as well as reach beyond the negativity that is guaranteed to be found in prison. My feeling is that people who are unfortunate enough to end up in prison should be able and encouraged to find ways of spending their time usefully.”
The organisers of the student volunteering scheme believe that the partnership benefits all involved, as both the incarcerated students and the university students develop their communication and employability skills.

For further info contact Katharine Brash, Head of Prison Contracts at Fife College (; and Anne Schwan, Reader in Literary Studies and Cultural Theory at Edinburgh Napier (