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 this year’s team below.

  • Animation

    Caragh Davison

    Caragh works at BFI NETWORK across their UK-Wide Talent Development Activity. Made possible through National Lottery funding, they 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.

  • 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 second collection Safrron Jack is published by Nine Arches Press. He also serves as chair of the writer development organisation Spread The Word.


  • Arts Project

    Louise Shelly

    Louise Shelley is a London based Curator. For the last ten years she has been supporting collaborative practices through her work at The Showroom and Cubitt gallery. Louise is also an associate lecturer on the Fine Art programme at Central St Martins, University of the Arts London.


  • Beauty

    Nicole Stafford

    Nicole Stafford is a distinguished Hair and Make-up Designer. She has worked on a variety of commercials, promos, TV productions and films including Tomb Raider, God Help The Girl and World War Z. She has also designed hair and make-up for album covers for Scottish band Belle And Sebastian. In 2017, Nicole won Best Makeup and Hair Design at the BIFA Awards for her work on The Death of Stalin. Nicole is currently working on Black Narcissus, an upcoming drama miniseries on BBC 1.

  • 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. Daring to cry out for personal expression – and subsequent punishment – has 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

    Sarah Lucas

    Lucas is an artist who came to prominence as one of the Young British Artists in the 1990s. Sarah’s work is known for its sly wit, and includes photography, sculpture and installation. She curated the 2012 Koestler exhibition at Royal Festival Hall.


  • 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, they 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.

  • 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

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

  • Graphic Novel

    John Allison

    John Allison is a writer and artist of comics and webcomics. He began his career with the webcomics ‘Bobbins’ (1998–2002), ‘Scary Go Round’ (2002–2009) and ‘Bad Machinery’ (2009–2017).

    In 2013 Allison pitched the series ‘Giant Days’ to BOOM! Box. It began as a six-issue limited run, and was then picked up as an ongoing series. In 2016 ‘Giant Days’ was nominated for 2 Eisner Awards and 4 Harvey Awards. In 2019 ‘Giant Days’ won 2 further Eisner Awards, for Best Continuing Series and Best Humor Publication.

    The success of ‘Giant Days’ led to further work with independent presses. Allison went on to write the series ‘By Night’ for BOOM! Studios, and ‘Steeple’ for Dark Horse Comics.

  • Hairstyling

    Mark Maciver

    Mark Maciver, aka SliderCuts, has been cutting hair professionally for over fifteen years. His clients range from basketball player Lebron James to world heavyweight champion boxer Anthony Joshua, as well as TV personality Reggie Yates and high-hitting UK rappers Stormzy and Tinie Tempah.

    Mark was recently recognised as one of the UK’s top black businesspeople following his win at the acclaimed Black British Business Awards. His debut book ‘Shaping Up Culture’ is a collection of inspirational and practical how-to guides on entrepreneurship. The book aims to change the mindsets of those who see a lack of opportunity and inspire new possibilities.

  • Handmade Book

    Mike Abrahams

    Mike is an artist and designer who makes work that explores and utilises the banal through assemblage, sculpture, artist books, drawing, film and performance. His ‘artists books’ can be found in the V&A, Tate and collections 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


    Berwyn Du Bois merges intelligent lyricism with an emotive yet filmic narrative. Delivering a style that defies genre, Berwyn has been able to develop a love for music as both a singer & rapper, as well as songwriter & producer. The Trinidad-born multi-instrumentalist relays his experiences of growing up in London through his eye-opening perspectives and chilling performances. Utilising influences from soul, rap and contemporary electronic styles, Berwyn aims to provide the listener with a sensitive insight into an often unwelcoming hyper masculine world.

  • Instrumental

    Grace Lindley

    Grace is the Learning & Participation Coordinator at live music producer Serious. Since 2016, she has managed a diverse portfolio of engagement projects in bespoke settings from hospitals and museums to Pupil Referral Units. Most recently, she worked on an original partnership project between Serious and Koestler Arts to develop the first ever EFG London Jazz Festival concert inside a prison (HMP Wormwood Scrubs) which showcased unique performances by residents, followed by Grammy Award winning artist Rhiannon Giddens. Previously, Grace worked at Paintings in Hospitals, assisting with all areas of the national visual arts charity, including fundraising and arts collection management.

    Katalin Milnes 

    Katalin Milnes is the Production Coordinator at Senbla, a London based concert promoting/production company, promoting shows and national tours throughout various venues in the UK.  Senbla has promoted acts such as Ennio Morricone, Quincy Jones, Tim Rice and Joss Stone. Katalin is also a professional musician, performing with her band Sloes at numerous venues such as The Roundhouse and Somerset House, and festivals including the of Isle of Wight Festival, Secret Garden Party and Boardmasters in Cornwall.

  • 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.

  • Matchstick Model

    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

    Shama Khanna

    Shama Khanna is an independent curator, writer and educator from and based in London. Khanna curates Flatness (flatness.eu), a multi-format research and commissioning project engaging in ideas around immaterial culture after the internet, and the Non-Linear artists’ moving image screening series with events taking place in international venues from Vancouver to Vilnius. Khanna teaches at Kingston University and University of the Arts, London and co-edits the publication A-or-ist with 7 other writers.

  • Mural and Wall Hanging

    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.

  • 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

    Grace Ndiritu

    Grace Ndiritu is an international visual artist. She studied Textile Art at Winchester School of Art (UK) and at De Ateliers (Amsterdam) between 1998 and 2000. Her work is housed in museum collections and private collections around the world. In 2014 she was named one of the ten most important and influential artists under 40 by Apollo Magazine.

    Ndiritu lives as much as possible in rural, alternative and often spiritual communities, while expanding her research into nomadic lifestyles and training in esoteric studies such as shamanism. Her research founded ‘The Ark’, a living research/live art project – part community experiment, part spiritual experience.

    Ndiritu’s online critical theory book ‘Dissent Without Modification’ later inspired her PAY WHAT YOU CAN fashion and economic research project COVERSLUT©. The fashion brand focuses on issues of democracy, race and class politics.

  • 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

    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

    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.

  • 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

    George the Poet is a London-born spoken word performer of Ugandan heritage. His innovative brand of musical poetry has won him critical acclaim both as a recording artist and a social commentator.

  • 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

    Wilfrid Wood

    Wilfrid Wood is a London-based sculptor, model maker and illustrator. He trained in graphics at Central St Martins before landing a job building latex heads for satirical TV programme, Spitting Image. From there he embarked on his artistic career, and his charismatic and quirky sculptures have since been exhibited all over the world. Wilfrid has created likenesses of a variety of people from Wayne Rooney to Paul McCartney.

  • Singer-songwriter – Original

    Aaron Roach Bridgeman

    Aaron Roach Bridgeman is a TV Host and Presenter (Channel 5, Sky, BBC Three, MTV, SB.TV). He has hosted countless live events with some of the biggest names in music. He is also Ambassador for political and media literacy youth organisation Shout Out UK, and mentor for Live Not Knives (LNK) giving workshops and talks about gang/knife crime prevention. One of Aaron’s passions is poetry and he has performed the spoken word all over the UK and internationally.

  • Song Writing


    Fusion is an experienced presenter, educator and creative producer who helps people to discover their own stories of transformation. He a director of creative youth agency Industry In The Streets (IITS), and the founder of BMT – an immersive live experience celebrating the ‘awesome everyday’ stories of black men.

    Fusion recently led vocal workshop sessions with residents of HMP Wormwood Scrubs in preparation for unique concert – the first ever EFG London Jazz Festival show inside a prison.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Themed Category: Window

    Lisa Selby

    Lisa Selby runs the Instagram account ‘bluebaglife’, gives insight into Lisa and Elliot’s relationship, with their combined first hand experiences of the prison system, mental health and addiction. Bluebaglife offers the perspectives of those held inside institutions, or those hiding away due to shame and stigma, as well as loved ones supporting them.

  • Watercolour

    Jeremy Deller

    Jeremy Deller is a conceptual, video and installation artist. Much of his work is collaborative and represents a variety of political and social aspects. Deller won the Turner Prize in 2004, and in 2010 was awarded the Albert Medal of the RSA for ‘creating art that encourages public responses and creativity’. He also represented Great 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