About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

What’s the idea?

Sussex Prisoners’ Families is piloting a digital platform aimed at families who have a loved one in prison. The platform will enable families to connect with each other - and with the organisation - to receive the practical and emotional support they need to deal with the situation. This should reduce the pressure on the prison service, while decreasing the anxiety experienced by the family. Families will be able to connect with others with lived experience of their situation, providing them with the emotional reassurance and support that prisons generally struggle to provide.


In England and Wales, there are 200,000 children affected by family imprisonment, with 10,000 children visiting a family member in prison weekly. Families of prisoners are a marginalised group who experience trauma, loss, poor physical and mental ill health and increased financial and housing problems as a result of their loved-one’s imprisonment.

Invisible to mainstream services, prisoners’ families face hostility from the local community, with many children bullied and ostracised at school.

Families are often left to cope alone with a bewildering criminal justice system

We have close working relationships with HMP Lewes, criminal justice services and support agencies in the community and we know these organisations have a difficult time meeting the needs of prisoners’ families. Families often have many questions at the start and end of a sentence, but there is no obvious place to access this information. A digital platform would enable prison services to communicate better with families and reduce the burden on their staff.

So far, we have carried out some prototyping; including our website, social media peer-to-peer support designed in partnership with Brighton University, a branded ‘Voice’ platform called ‘Hidden Voices’ (which includes films created by young people), and a quarterly newsletter.

Why the ShareLab Fund?

The support we receive from Nesta will allow us to integrate our existing digital channels within one communication platform allowing us to reach a wider audience across Sussex.

It will also allow us to innovate and test new digital approaches to supporting families in crisis, establishing a model which has the potential to be replicated elsewhere across the prison estate.

Sussex Prisoners’ Families will receive £17,500 from the ShareLab Fund.

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