Paperchains - pandemic, prison - profession

Published: 12th June 2020

Something I have been thinking a lot about recently is who is missing? In the story of the Lost Sheep, the reckless love of Jesus causes him to leave 99 sheep who are safe at that moment, to “go after the lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:4 NIV).

I was therefore very excited when the Revd Deborah Walton, Curate at St Mary’s Church, Enville and St Peter's Kinver, in South Staffordshire, put me in touch with Al Smith, a member of the St Mary’s congregation. His work in prison libraries across Staffordshire has been highlighted by Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire and BBC Radio 4’s PM.

Al had the brilliant idea to provide a voice to people who have experienced prison, homelessness or who have served in the armed services, along with their families during lockdown. He has called this initiative Paperchains and it’s something that I’m honoured to champion.

Paperchains aims to ensure that when the history of the 2020 Lockdown is written the voices and lived experiences of those often less heard are not lost. He says his aim is to create: “A proud record of the voices that are crying out to be heard just as much as everyone else. I want us to create something that future generations will study as they try to understand what this time must have been like for those who lived through it.”

Paperchains allows us to get involved. Proverbs 31:8 encourages us to: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves”. The best way that we can do this is by first listening to, and then magnifying, the voice of those who have lived experience – who have ‘skin in the game’. Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee put it like this: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Lichfield Diocese has the highest number of prisons of any diocese in England. Can we ensure that the voice of those in prison, or those ex-offenders that we are ministering to, is not lost when the history of lockdown is written?  Many churches and Christian projects in the diocese are doing vital work supporting those experiencing homelessness. Can we encourage those with these experiences to record their responses to lockdown and send them in? It can be a journal entry, a short story, a poem, a drawing, sketch or painting. These will be curated for an exhibition in 2021 and an accompanying book.

The entry deadline is 5 July 2020 (the date the NHS was established in 1948). For each category there will be BRONZE/SILVER/GOLD awards. Those who are selected to be a part of the 2021 exhibition will receive a commemorative wristband.

Entries can be sent to: Paperchains, PO Box 7482, Stourbridge, DY8 9HH

Find out more at https://www.paperchains.org/. Shareable image here.

James Henderson


James Henderson is the Senior Development Worker for Transforming Communities Together (TCT, www.tctogether.org.uk), a Joint Venture between the Diocese of Lichfield and the Church urban Fund across the Black Country, Staffordshire and Northern Shropshire. I’m proud that TCT is able to support Paperchains, as we recognise the need to give a voice to those who are so often silenced – now more than ever.


Page last updated: 12th June 2020 1:05 PM