Call the Midwife actress Jenny Agutter is an ambassador for Liberty Choir, a charity which brings music into prisons and uses the power of song to help inmates prepare for life on the outside.
The Call the Midwife and The Railway Children star has seen first-hand how music can bring hope and positivity to some of the most vulnerable members of society, helping to build their confidence and reintegrate them into the community.
Recalling a choir session she joined at Wandsworth Prison, Jenny tells HELLO!: “I was sitting next to somebody who was very, very quiet throughout, and I said to him, ‘Do you like to come to this? Does it mean something to you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, it's the only time I ever feel I'm not stuck in this place and that I'm actually in contact with people. I just kind of forget things for a while and listen to the music.’ And he was about the same age as my son.”
Jenny, who is mum to 32-year-old Jonathan, adds: “There are some good musicians amongst the inmates and the music can bring quite an emotional response. I was quite emotional myself.”
Liberty Choir was founded by composer MJ Paranzino and journalist Ginny Dougary in 2014 and will soon extend its programme to its 10th prison. Inmates are invited to join weekly practice sessions, singing anything from Frank Sinatra to Bach, before performing for their families. And once the leave prison, they can join a Liberty Choir on the outside.
“These people have been cut off from everything, including their families,” Jenny continues. “Joining the choir after their release enables them to be part of the community and there is great success in that those people don’t end up back in prison again. I think prison is a system that needs to be very carefully looked at. It’s a punishment but what it's not doing is making it possible for people to be included again or to feel that they're part of society. Something like 300,000 children have a parent in prison and the effect on them is enormous.
“It’s much easier to highlight a cancer charity or a children’s charity and people tend to want to turn their backs on some of the most vulnerable people in society, but we have to recognise the need to rehabilitate people and change things.”
Jenny, 70, who plays Sister Julienne in Call the Midwife, is currently filming the new series of the BBC drama, which follows the lives of a group of nurses working in London’s East End during the 1950s and 1960s. She says she’s thrilled to still be working in TV.
“I can’t believe how lucky I am; I love it. I love the show because I think it has wonderful stories and I love it when people say they enjoy it. I get approached all the time by people who are touched by it in some way; either they know somebody who's a midwife or have family who lived in Poplar popular or who know what it was like in those days. People talk about their experiences and I love that, I think that's great.”
Search for Liberty Choir at biggive.org