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.

Read more about us

  • Judging the Koestler Awards

  • Judging the Koestler Awards

  • Judging the Koestler Awards

  • Judging the Koestler Awards

  • Judging the Koestler Awards

Haroon Mirza and Gaia Fugazza judging Digital image, 2015
Grayson Perry judging painting at the Koestler Arts Centre
Grace Helmer judging Graphic Novels at the Koestler Arts Centre
Hot Chip judging Computer Generated Music at the Koestler Arts Centre
Reggie Yates judging the Themed category at the Koestler Arts Centre

Judging the Koestler Awards

Our judges play a vital part in maintaining the impact and prestige of the Koestler Awards. By using their expertise to select award-winning artworks from over 7,000 entries, the judges help recognise and reward the skill, effort and ambition of people in the UK’s criminal justice system.

Entries are judged by over 100 experts from different fields. Over the years, judges have included Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, representatives from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Council, the National Theatre, the British Film Institute, Louise Galvin, Speech Debelle, Louis Theroux and Hot Chip.

We are very grateful to the judges who have given awards and feedback to Koestler Awards entrants, and the many more people who have volunteered to help compile shortlists and give written feedback.

We are delighted to announce that Bob and Roberta Smith, George the Poet, Hot Chip, Jeremy Deller and Sarah Lucas will be on the judging team for the 2020 Koestler Awards!

Check back soon for the full list of this year’s judges and learn more about last year’s team below.

  • Animation

    Paul Bush

    Paul Bush is a filmmaker and animation director whose work has been shown in cinemas and on television all over the world. He lectures and teaches at many film schools, including the National Film School in the UK and Harvard in the USA.

  • Anthology

    Rishi Dastidar

    Rishi Dastidar is a poet and copywriter. He has written for a wide variety of brands during his career and was recently a judge for D&AD. His poetry has been published by the BBC, Financial Times and New Scientist amongst many others. A member of the Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective, his debut collection Ticker-tape is published by Nine Arches Press, and a poem from it was included in The Forward Book of Poetry 2018. He also serves as chair of the writer development organization Spread The Word.


  • Arts Project

    Louise Shelly

    Louise Shelley is a London based Curator, for the last ten years she has been supporting collaborative practice through her work at The Showroom gallery and now as Curatorial Fellow at Cubitt, an artist run studio and gallery cooperative.


  • Beauty

    Carole Warburton

    Carole Warburton has been a nail technician for over 25 years. Since 1998 she has been doing the nails at London Fashion Week, and Caribbean Fashion Week in Jamaica since 2014.

  • Braille

    Eleanor Southwood

    Eleanor is a Local Councillor, and the Chair of RNIB, Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), the UK’s leading charity supporting blind and partially sighted people. We offer practical and emotional support to those that need us, so they can continue living life to the full.

  • Calligraphy

    Ewan Clayton

    Ewan has practised calligraphy for over 30 years and is a Professor in Design at the University of Sunderland. He is also a core member of staff at The Royal Drawing School.

    Edward Wates

    Edward Wates worked in academic publishing for over 40 years before retiring in 2018. His calligraphy has been exhibited internationally, and is held in collections in the UK, Germany, Pakistan and the US. He is an elected member of the Letter Exchange and serves on the Crafts Study Centre Acquisitions Committee. He is also Chair of the Irene Wellington Educational Trust and the Commonwork Trust.

  • Ceramics


    Schneider’s punk-baroque ceramic sculptures explore the boundaries of functionality and aesthetic standards. Having grown up in East Berlin, Schneider is interested in the tension between rebellion and tradition, where daring to cry out for personal expression – and subsequent punishment – have shaped her personality and artwork.

  • Choral Music

    Philharmonia Chorus

    The Philharmonia Chorus is an independent symphony chorus based in London. Founded in 1957, it quickly established itself as one of Europe’s leading symphony choruses. In a highly distinguished career, the Chorus has performed with nearly all the leading conductors of the age. The Chorus performs regularly in London, and over the next year will undertake tours to Spain and Germany.

  • Computer Generated Music

    Hot Chip

    Hot Chip was formed in 2000 by old school friends Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard, later joined by Felix Martin, Al Doyle and Owen Clarke. Their second album ‘The Warning’ was nominated for both a Grammy and the Mercury Prize in 2006. The follow-up, 2008’s ‘Made in the Dark’ made the UK Top 5 and produced a Top 10 single in “Ready for the Floor”. The band have gone on to release a further three albums as well as develop a reputation as skilled DJs and remixers.

  • Cover Version

    Glass Animals

    Glass Animals are an English psychedelic pop band formed in Oxford in 2010. They have achieved considerable success worldwide, and their single ‘Gooey’ has been certified platinum in several countries including the USA. Glass Animals’ second studio album ‘How To Be A Human Being ‘(charted top 20 in the US and top 25 in the UK) won in two categories at the 2018 MPG Awards for ‘UK Album of the Year’ and ‘Self Producing Artist of the Year’, as well as a spot on the Mercury Prize shortlist. In June 2020, the band announced that their third studio album ‘Dreamland’ had been delayed in order to “keep focus on the Black Lives Matter movement and the discussions taking place around racism and police brutality around the world.”

  • Craft

    Dorcas Magbadelo

    Dorcas Magbadelo is a London based illustrator whose work focuses on uplifting Black women and the cross sections of her identity as a Nigerian British woman. Alongside her illustration practice she currently co-runs pop up gift shop Ilé La Wà in Walthamstow.

  • Digital Art

    Antonio Roberts

    Antonio Roberts is an artist and curator based in Birmingham, UK. His practices explore what ownership and authorship mean in an age impacted by digital technology. He is part of a-n’s Artist Council, is an Artist Advisor for Jerwood Arts and from 2014 – 2019 he was Curator at Vivid Projects where he produced the Black Hole Club artist development programme.

  • Drawing

    Terence Lambert

    Terence Lambert graduated in Fine Art from Batley School of Art. He is a fine artist/illustrator that works mainly in a digital format. Main themes of beauty, melancholy, isolation and anxiety run throughout his work. He is interested in and inspired by the human condition and social dynamics. He has himself received multiple Koestler awards and exhibited at the Southbank Centre on numerous occasions.

    Jacqui McIntosh

    Jacqui McIntosh is Exhibitions Manager at Drawing Room – the only public and non-profit gallery in the UK and Europe dedicated to contemporary drawing. Independently, she has worked as a curator and writer in Ireland and the UK.

  • Fashion

    Juliet Ash

    Juliet has written widely on and lectured full time in Fashion and Dress History and Theory at many Art and Design Colleges. She currently is an occasional visiting tutor
    at the Royal College of Art.

  • Film

    Caragh Davison

    Caragh works at BFI NETWORK across their UK-Wide Talent Development Activity. Made possible through National Lottery funding, we collaborate with film organisations and leading cultural venues across the UK to provide short film and early feature development funding, industry-backed professional development and networking support to producers, writers and directors of all ages.

    Ruth Thompson

    Ruth Thompson is part of the Operations team for the Film Fund at BFI. Ruth’s role includes administering the two NETWORK funds, providing support to regional partners, and ensuring the processes and operational capabilities of the wider department run smoothly.

  • Flash Fiction and Short Story

    Carl Cattermole

    Seven-foot-tall repeat offender, ex-prisoner in multiple countries, author of ‘HMP A Survival Guide’, award winning journalist. Loves: Miami, imperfection, humans. Hates: smart phones, estate agents, RBKC.

  • Furniture

    Julian Chichester

    Julian’s company ‘Julian Chichester’ creates classically inspired, quality English furniture. The company design and manufacture remarkable furniture, which combines classic styles with contemporary accents.

  • Graphic Design

    Emily Wood & Ruth Sykes

    Graphic designers and educators Ruth Sykes and Emily Wood founded their graphic design consultancy REG in 2003. They combine their  design practice with teaching at Central Saint Martins (Ruth) and Kingston University (Emily). They are interested in how graphic design can improve living and learning, and work with arts organisations, charities, schools and colleges.

  • Graphic Novel

    Hannah Berry

    Hannah Berry is an award-winning graphic novelist, cartoonist and comics creator. She is the current UK Comics Laureate and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

  • Hairstyling

    Louise Galvin

    Top celebrity colourist and founder of her own luxury natural haircare range, Sacred Locks. Louise is based in her father’s famous Daniel Galvin Salon in London and has over 20 years’ experience in the haircare industry. She has coloured the hair of several fashion and beauty icons including Sophie Dahl, Samantha Cameron and Patsy Kensit.

  • Handmade Book

    Mike Abrahams

    Mike is a designer, artist book maker, curator and athlete. He calls all these activities ‘work’ as they are all as important as each other in his life. His work has taken him from Nepal to Greece, Singapore to Italy and from Jordan to Senegal – making logos and brands, books, events or just running. All aspects of his work influence his artist books which can be found in the collections of Tate and the V&A as well as around the world.

    Deb Rindl

    Deb is a graduate of Camberwell College of Arts where she studied Graphics & Illustration as a mature student. She creates artist’s books in small editions, mostly printed and made by hand, notable for their “sculptural” quality.

  • Handmade Greetings Card

    Ellen Kirkhope

    Now working as an independent Senior Creative Consultant across a wide range of brands, Ellen formerly gained her experience as a Creative Director working within the prominent trend agency, WGSN. There she led an international team of designers in creating trend-led, commercial design work and creative editorial content for a global audience. She holds an honours degree in Graphic Design and has a love of print and illustration. Her past roles have included working for Nickelodeon, Disney and Paperchase.


  • Hip Hop, Rap and Grime

    Paul Cree

    Paul Cree is a rapper , storyteller, poet and actor who co-runs hip-hop theatre company Beats & Elements. He’s performed around the UK at a variety of festivals and events such as Bestival and The Edinburgh Fringe and has featured on BBC 1Xtra and BBC London. He has written and performed 2 solo shows; A Tale From The Bedsit (2013) and The C/D Borderline (2016) as well as co-writing and performing in the critically acclaimed Beats & Elements shows, No Milk For The Foxes (2015) and the recently run, High Rise eState Of Mind (2019.)  In 2018 published his debut collection of poems and stories, entitled The Suburban with Burning Eye Books.

    Alex de Lacey

    Alex de Lacey is a lecturer in popular music at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is an active DJ in the grime scene, with a show on Mode FM alongside Over The Edge.

  • Instrumental Music


    Lafawndah has established a reputation for boundary-smashing and pigeonhole-defying creativity. Influences on her debut album Ancestor Boy, released in March, stem from her peripatetic life as a global citizen. Her music is a bracing statement of intent, drawing from a personalised map of influence while resisting both categorisation and easy analysis.

    Toby Thatcher

    Toby Thatcher is an Australian/British conductor, director & founder of Ensemble Eroica and founder of Ensemble x.y. He is currently developing Zeitgeist, an online multimedia gallery of social and/or politically motivated contemporary work, primarily curated by a diverse roster of respected figures in a variety of fields.

  • Life Story

    Shaun Attwood

    Shaun Attwood is a speaker, author and activist based in London, who is banned from America for life. As an inmate in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail, he used a tiny pencil sharpened on a cell door to write the first prison blog, Jon’s Jail Journal. After winning a Koestler Award and getting on the Koestler Trust mentoring scheme, Shaun went on to publish 7 true crime books.

  • Longer Fiction and Novel

    Martha Whittome

    Martha is a qualified teacher with over ten years’ experience in literary arts administration, running the Poetry Book Society.

    Anthony Whittome

    As editorial director of Hutchinson and Random House UK for many years, Anthony published work by a range of well-known authors of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

  • Matchsticks/Matchsticks & Mixed Media

    Andrew Wright

    Until recently, Andrew was Quality Assurance Manager at Republic Technologies (UK) Ltd. Having worked with a company that manufactured, and now sells, matches for over 30 years Andrew is very well qualified to judge the matchstick modelling categories. Andrew has judged the awards for a number of years and never ceases to be amazed at the time, effort and enthusiasm that is put into the entries.

  • Mixed Media

    Charles Darwent

    Charles was art critic of the Independent on Sunday from 1999-2013. He was also on the IMB at Pentonville for seven years. His biography of the artist, Josef Albers, was published by Thames & Hudson in October 2018.

    Carol Wates

    Carol studied at Guildford College of Art and Chelsea College of Art and has since had a varied career in the arts. Her family have been long-term active supporters of the Koestler Trust and her husband is a Trustee of the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust.

  • Mural and Wall Hanging

    Jessica Davies Molly

  • Music Composition

    Sam Swallow

    Sam Swallow is the keyboard player for indie pop rock band The Hoosiers. Their first single Worried About Ray reached number 5 on the UK Singles Chart in July 2007. In October 2007, they released their debut album The Trick to Life, which reached number 1 in the album charts. He composes music for film and TV, as well as orchestrating and arranging for The 1975, Cast, Simple Minds and Amy Macdonald.

  • Needlecraft

    Jane Parvin

    Jane is a long-term supporter of the Koestler Trust, with personal connections to the needlework industry. Jane has been a Koestler Awards judge for almost 20 years.

    Harriet Wallace

  • Non-Fiction, Blog, Essay, Article and Review


    Bidisha is a writer and broadcaster for the BBC and Sky, specialising in human rights, global affairs, the arts and culture. She is a Trustee of the Booker Prize Foundation. Her fifth book, ‘Asylum and Exile,’ is based on her outreach work with asylum seekers and refugees. She also does outreach work in UK prisons and detention centres.

  • Painting

    Alison Lapper MBE

    Alison Lapper MBE is an artist and television presenter. Born with no arms and shortened legs, Alison was institutionalised at 6 weeks old. Aged 19, she completed an art foundation course at Heatherley School of Fine Art, where she painted with her mouth. As a teenager, she was invited to join the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA) and she remains a full member today. In May 2003, she was awarded an MBE for her services for art.

    In 2016 Alison began a new career as a presenter for television. She co-presented ‘No Body’s Perfect’ for BBC4 with the photographer Rankin, followed by her own take on William Blake for Sky Arts in 2017.

  • Pastel

    Bob and Roberta Smith 

    Bob and Roberta Smith is a British contemporary artist, writer, author and musician. He is known for his “slogan” art; he trained as a sign painter in New York and uses text as an art form, creating colourful slogans on banners and placards that challenge elitism and promote the importance of creativity in politics and education. His works have been exhibited and are in collections in Europe and the United States.


  • Performance

    Debo Amon

    Debo Amon is a Literature Programmer at Southbank Centre. He has also previously worked at the British Council on their International Literature programme and other literature organisations and theatres.

  • Photography

    Robert Taylor

    Portrait photographer and artist Robert Taylor has published and exhibited widely over the last 30 years, with work in the collections of V&A, the National Portrait Gallery and several other permanent collections.

  • Poem

    George the Poet


  • Poetry Collection

    Joelle Taylor

    Joelle is an award-winning poet, playwright and author who founded the national youth slams for the Poetry Society in 2001. Her books include ‘Ska Tissue’ (2011), ‘The Woman Who Was Not There’ (2014) and ‘Songs My Enemy Taught Me’ (2017). Favourite poetry collection: ‘Don’t Call Us Dead’ by Danez Smith.

  • Portrait

    Edmund Clark

    Edmund Clark is an artist interested in linking history, politics and representation. His research based work combines a range of references and forms including bookmaking, installations, photography, video, documents, text and found images and material. Recurring themes include developing strategies for reconfiguring how subjects are seen and engaging with state censorship to explore unseen experiences, spaces and processes of control and incarceration in the ‘Global War on Terror’ and elsewhere. He was artist-in-residence at HMP Grendon from 2014 to 2019.

  • Printmaking

    Gill Saunders

    Gill is a Senior Curator of Prints at the Victoria & Albert Museum. She has written a number of books on 20th Century and Contemporary Art.

  • Radio Play

    Katie Redford

    Katie is an actress/writer from Nottingham. In 2015, she won The BBC Norman Beaton Fellowship which resulted in her becoming part of The BBC Radio Drama Rep. She worked on an extensive amount of radio plays and now plays Lily Pargetter in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers. She also voices characters in BBC Radio 4’s Home Front and BBC Radio Comedy’s All Those Women. Her TV work includes Mount Pleasant (Sky 1), Young Hyacinth (BBC 1) and Still Open All Hours (BBC1) She writes for both stage and screen and has a TV comedy script optioned with Zeppotron, which also won The Comedy Project at Soho Theatre. She’s also just written and produced her first short film, starring Alison Steadman which will be screened in the summer of 2018.

  • Radio Production

    Chrystal Genesis

    Chrystal is a freelance producer and broadcast journalist. After working at the BBC for almost a decade – creating multi-platform content for Radio 4, 6 Music, BBC 1 and BBC World in London and Washington DC, she runs award-winning podcast, Stance, which explores arts, culture and current affairs from diverse global perspectives. She also works in artistic programming at Southbank Centre for contemporary music, comedy and performance.


  • Screenplay

    Lea Sellers

    Lea Sellers is a media trainer and communications consultant. She is co-founder of The Confidence People, helping people communicate with confidence when they speak in public or to the media. She moderates at the Emirates Airline Literary Festival and the British Library. Her background is in television news and current affairs where she was producer on Newsnight and Question Time for the BBC and Deputy Foreign Editor on Channel 4 News. She has a degree in Russian Studies, an MA in International Relations and an MA in Screenwriting. She also writes feature film scripts and plays.

  • Sculpture
  • Singer-songwriter – Original

    Gabriella Rhodes

    Working as the Development Assistant, Gabriella has worked on a variety of projects within Serious whilst supporting the development team over the last year. This includes working on hospitality events during the EFG London Jazz Festival, helping to establish partnerships across all sectors, assisting with the administration of Serious Trust and supporting in implementing a broad programme of activity including Learning work. Before working at Serious, Gabriella worked at Sisters Grimm, an international ballet production company. In this role, Gabriella worked with the musicians and cast members as company manager & PA, assisting with all areas of creating live productions and touring aspects. A proficient musician with a high standard in both violin and piano, Gabriella has a keen passion of all genres of music.

    Helen Gibbs

    Helen is PA to Claire Whitaker OBE who is one of two directors at Serious. Helen’s role involves supporting Claire in all aspects of her work which include new business development, supporting the Serious Trust (a registered charity) and working closely with the Learning & Development teams to devise and deliver the organisation’s Learning & Participation programmes. Prior to Serious, Helen worked at World Circuit Records. Over the years she worked as, Marketing and PR Officer, Production Coordinator and PA to the label owner. Helen has also worked for other music based organisations such as Movimientos and Africa Oyé.

    Grace Lindley

    Grace is the Learning & Participation Coordinator at Serious, and has worked on a number of Serious’ outreach projects since beginning in the role in 2016. These include Saxophone Massive – a mass participation project for up to 200 saxophonists performing to audiences of local people and Pass it On, a scheme which brings outstanding artists into Pupil Referral Units in Leeds to lead workshops and inspire the next generation of artists. Prior to working at Serious, Grace worked at Paintings in Hospitals, assisting with all areas of a national visual arts charity, including fundraising and arts collection management.

  • Songwriting

    Angelina Grimshaw

    Angelina Grimshaw is a published songwriter, music lecturer, performer and recording artist.
    Her work has taken her to the National Theatre, Edinburgh Festival, international Blues and Jazz festivals.
    Her music has received outstanding reviews in the music press and prolific attention from BBC radio.
    She is currently writing and recording with Dr. Robert of The Blow Monkeys, and touring with the Iconic 60’s rock band The Pretty Things.

  • Spoken Word

    Wanda Canton

    Wanda Canton designs and delivers structured group courses and workshops exploring spoken word, performance and creative writing as tools to express or understand emotions and experiences, using language to create movement or space. She has worked with community projects including TedX, mental health services and secure forensic hospitals. As an artist she is inspired by jazz and rap and has been performing since 2011, including VFringe Festival and publication in the ICA.

    Jason N Smith

    Jason N Smith is an award winning writer and spoken word artist who has performed at Roundhouse, Royal Festival Hall, National Theatre and various festivals and events nationally. He has also been involved in BBC Listener Project and facilitates workshops.

  • Stage Play

    Synergy Theatre Project

    Koestler Arts has partnered with Synergy Theatre Project to develop the Stage Play category. All Stage Play entries will be read and judged by a team of theatre professionals and ex-prisoners. Every entry will receive written feedback. After award-winners are announced online, there will be a prize-giving ceremony and a reading at the Royal Court Theatre.

    Readers provided by Synergy: TBC

  • Textile Art

    Enam Gbewonyo

    Enam Gbewonyo’s practice investigates identity, womanhood, and humanity through the mediums of textiles and performance. Through her work, she is also an advocate for handcraft using processes like embroidery, knit, weave, print and wirework. Her work has been exhibited in several national and international group shows with leading art spaces such as TAFETA Gallery (2018), Bonhams (2018), Bisi Silva’s Gallery of Small Things at Centre Culturel Douta Seck, Dakar (2018) and ACDF Lagos (2017), Toronto’s, The Artist Project Fair (2016) and TEDxEuston in London (2015). She was also a 2017/18 International Curator’s Forum ‘Beyond the Frame’ participant – a 22 month programme developed to support BAME art professionals.Passionate about elevating black women artists, Enam is also the founder of the Black British Female Artist Collective. Founded in 2015, the Collective serves as a platform to support emerging African/Caribbean diaspora women artists build sustainable careers.

  • Watercolour

    Jeremy Deller

    Jeremy Deller is a Turner-prize winning artist. He has also represented Britain at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

  • Woodcraft

    Geoff Nunn

    Geoff left school at the age of 15 and trained in joinery and carpentry which led to a varied career including manufacturing, managament and teaching. He also taught at Highdown Prison.

Looking round the entries to the Koestler Awards is like taking a tour through the collective subconscious. Here are the concerns, hopes and obsessions of thousands of people.

Grayson Perry, artist