Unlock the talent inside

Since 1962 the Koestler Awards have played a unique, national role in motivating prisoners, secure hospital patients and immigration detainees to take part in the arts. The Koestler Awards are simple and powerful – we reward achievement, build self-confidence and broaden horizons for some of society’s most disadvantaged and marginalised people.

Our work harnesses the uniquely transformative power of the arts to help individuals learn the skills and gain the confidence to live creative, positive and productive lives. Each year we receive more than 7,000 entries from over 3,500 entrants across the UK in 52 categories. More than 2,000 Awards are granted by over 100 esteemed judges, and each year culminates in a curated exhibition at Southbank Centre which showcases the incredible power of the arts to transform lives.

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Wet Sunday, HM Prison Nottingham, First Koestler Award winner for Painting, 1962

About Us

The Koestler Trust is the UK’s best-known prison arts charity. We encourage ex-offenders to change their lives through taking part in the arts, and we challenge negative preconceptions of what ex-offenders are capable of. 

We aim to:

  • Help offenders, secure patients and detainees lead more positive lives by motivating them to participate and achieve in the arts.
  • Increase public awareness and understanding of arts by offenders, secure patients & detainees.
  • Be a dynamic, responsive organisation which achieves excellent quality and value for money.

Our work

We inspire participation in the arts amongst offenders, secure patients and detainees through Awards and Feedback, Mentoring, Sales, Exhibitions and Events. We increase public awareness of the potential of offenders through Exhibitions and Events, Publications and contributing to research.

Our small team is based just outside HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs in west London. We partner with organisations across the UK to develop ambitious, innovative programmes that maximise resources and expertise.

Who we work with

We work across the UK’s criminal justice and secure systems. Including custodial settings (prisons, young offenders institutions, medium and high secure hospitals, secure children’s homes and immigration centres), and people in the community (on probation, engaged with youth offending teams, and on community sentences).

We also accept Koestler Awards entries from British people imprisoned abroad through a partnership with the charity Prisoners Abroad.

We work with many partner organisations including; arts venues, museums and galleries; other organisations encouraging arts and education in secure settings; young offenders teams; probation services; and charities supporting victims of crime.

Thinking of You, Guernsey States Prison, Commended Award for Hand-made Greetings Cards, 2014

Thinking of You, Guernsey States Prison, Commended Award for Hand-made Greetings Cards, 2014

In an environment which alternates between clinical brightness and a dreadful darkness, Koestler brings permission for colour, texture and light. Every prisoner should be given a brush and told to make a mark – perhaps then less would return.

Exhibited artist