In 1986 Ann Wetherall, the PPT’s founder, was working on a research project with Sir Alister Hardy at the Religious Experience Research Centre investigating spiritual experiences arising from imprisonment. Her role involved writing to prisoners.
Ann found there was a spiritual hunger among prisoners that was not being met. She felt if prisoners were introduced to disciplines like meditation and yoga, and supported in their efforts, they might feel differently about themselves.
With this as its aim, The Prison Phoenix Trust was registered as a charity in July 1988, and the work continues to be funded solely by donations.
Catholic nun and Zen master Sister Elaine MacInnes built on Ann Wetherall’s original vision of supporting prisoners, and brought a deep appreciation of the practice and teaching of meditation to the Trust during her time as Director. Later, Director Sandy Chubb ensured that the yoga practices of asana, pranayama and relaxation were offered to prisoners in an effective and harmonious way with the seated meditation.
Early patrons included Dr Sheila Cassidy, Jeremy Irons and Father Lawrence Freeman (who remain patrons today) and Sir Stephen Tumim and Baroness Lucy Faithfull.
The first regular prison yoga classes were established in 1989 at HMYOIs Campsfield House, Hollesley Bay and Aylesbury. The Trust now supports over 140 weekly classes in approximately 80 secure establishments around the UK and Ireland.
The Prison Phoenix Trust regularly receives recognition for its groundbreaking work with prisoners and prison staff. Notable awards have included The Schumacher Award (2003), The Una Padel Award (highly commended in 2007), the Rediscover Your Heart Award in 2009 and runner up for the PrisonerActionNet Awards 2010. In 2011 we were delighted to be awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which is equivalent to an MBE and the highest accolade of its type a voluntary organisation can receive.