AN AWARD-WINNING service connecting children with their parents who are prison inmates is marking its twentieth anniversary with a major accolade.

The charity Storybook Dads has scooped a national award, one of several over the years, for helping reduce the trauma of separation for more than 4,000 children every year. The project, formed by Sharon Berry of the Tamar Valley, enables inmates (of any relation and gender) throughout the country to read stories to children through pre-recorded CDs or videos.

It’s role in ensuring children do not suffer more than necessary due to the sentences meted out to relatives has been recognised by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) with a CSJ Foundation award which supports charities to drive policy change addressing the causes of poverty, social breakdown and sometimes crime.

Sharon, who runs the scheme from HMNP Dartmoor in Princetown, said: ‘Connecting fathers, mothers and any relatives with an inmate in prisons across the UK through the simple art of story-telling, plays an important role in reducing re-offending.

‘No-one commits a crime thinking or realising their children will also suffer a form of sentence. But when they get involved in Storybook Dads the prisoners realise how their actions are affecting their families.

‘I’m very proud of the recognition by the CSJ. The award will help raise our profile even more and reach people making the big decisions. The theory is also that we could receive financial help.’

The charity, founded in 2002, receives no statutory funding and started in Dartmoor and Channings Wood prisons as a one-person band with Sharon recording prisoners reading stories which she then edited and sent to families. The project expanded to other prisons and copied by the Armed Forces to support families with relatives far away on frontline.

Sharon has since recruited staff and generated income as it expanded. Her interest in prisons all started when she volunteered for BBC Radio Devon to help a writer-in-residence at Channings Wood start up a radio station. She then worked towards a teaching qualfication and taught literacy at Channings Wood and Dartmoor, progressing to start up Storybook Dads: ‘It was an uphill battle because people ask why prisoners should be helped. I tell them that it isn’t the children who should be punished. ‘Statistics show the happier families are, the firmer the foundation is when prisoners are released and the less likely they are to reoffend. The most hardened and macho of tatooed prisoners get pretty emotional reading stories and messages. One of the inmates could not read, so lines were read by a project worker and repeated by the father for his daughter who said he could not wait to hold her in his arms.’