29 May 2018
This year the Law School launched a new module called ‘Learning Together’ for Criminology students. The module entails students making weekly visits to Lancaster Farms Prison to ‘learn together’ with the prisoners, or learners, at Lancaster Farms.

I received an email about the module towards the end of summer holidays and the course seemed like a really unique and exciting opportunity, the sort that only comes along once. For my third year at Lancaster, I had set myself two main goals. First, I set the challenge of pushing myself more, and second, I wanted to take all new opportunities that that were offered to me and so Learning Together couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for me.

Until our very first session, it hadn’t quite sunk in that I would be spending every Thursday morning for the next 9 weeks at Lancaster Farms and by the end of the module, I would know these people not as prisoners, but as colleagues and even friends. The first session was quite daunting, as I and everyone else were doing something completely new and were all very much outside of our comfort zones. However, the initial awkwardness soon turned into excitement and eagerness to get started with the course. Each week we were taught in a mixture of lecture and seminar based sessions, with each delivered by different lecturers, some from Lancaster University and others from different universities across the UK. There were many interesting topics covered on the course, however, there were some that particularly stood out to me. Dr Stephanie Kewley from Liverpool John Moores University delivered a session on desistance and this was one of my personal favourites. In the workshop activity for this session, we paired up with Lancaster Farms students and worked through the ‘Good Lives Model’. The Good Lives Model includes a set of basic needs that everyone strives for in order to live a fulfilled life, and as part of the group activity we teamed up to discuss which aspects of our lives we could improve upon. I especially enjoyed this session because it combined the academic content with our own lives and it allowed me to get to know my classmates on a more personal level.

The assessment for this module included a group presentation and group portfolio. Each group was made up of a mixture of Lancaster University and Lancaster Farms students. My group and I decided to do our presentation on Education in Prison. At the end of each session we were provided time to meet up with our groups to put together our presentations and by the end of the 9 weeks we had gotten to know each other really well. As we were unable to communicate with each other between sessions, this group project was unlike any other that I had done throughout my degree. We had limited resources and were working with new people with varied backgrounds and knowledge bases and this really tested our ability to work well as a group. Learning Together allowed me to experience a fresh way of learning and meant that I was able to understand and appreciate first-hand how the Lancaster Farms students experience education in prison. As someone who struggles with public speaking, I was particularly nervous for the assessment week. However, we were all in the same boat and the atmosphere couldn’t have been more supportive. Each group and group member were thoroughly encouraged during their presentations and I was made to feel very comfortable whilst speaking and delivering my part. After everyone had done their presentations, it was in this moment that it became clear to me and everyone else what we had all achieved, and how well we worked together in not just our assessment groups but as a group as a whole.

In our very last session at Lancaster Farms we had a graduation ceremony. All students and staff got to wear graduation gowns, and speeches were delivered by both Lancaster Farms and Lancaster University students as well as Lancaster Farms staff and the Head of the Law School. The graduation consisted of a short ceremony to collect our certificates and this was followed by a chance for photographs and, as we were all allowed guests, a chance to come together to recognise our achievements. The ceremony gave us the perfect opportunity to reflect on the hard work and dedication that had been put into the course, to enjoy ourselves, and to celebrate what we had all accomplished. Once the graduation came to an end, we got one last chance to say goodbye to one another, and I think we were all feeling a little sad that it had come to an end!

When I spoke to the Lancaster Farms students about how they felt about the course, it became obvious that they got so much out of the module. They told me that it was something that they looked forward to every week and that they loved getting to know us. Their comments included:

  • “I am so glad that I chose this course. It is making me think differently about my own life and offending.”
  • "I am really enjoying the course. It has opened my eyes to what I could achieve.”
  • "It is a really friendly and welcoming atmosphere."

The course meant a great deal to them, as it did to me and the other Lancaster University students. The Learning Together module had such a positive impact on me, and it was definitely not something that I thought I would have the opportunity to do in my final year of university. The module not only pushed me outside of my comfort zone but also helped me to grow in confidence. I gained invaluable experience, learnt a great deal from the Lancaster Farms students and built-up many new relationships that I never thought I would. Most importantly, the course allowed me to get to know people not by their offence, but as people who shared a common interest in education. We weren’t two separate groups of students and prisoners, we were all students just learning together.