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Bedford / Yarl's Wood IRC

Bedford / Yarl's Wood IRC

On the outskirts of Clapham in Bedfordshire, Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre can hold around 400 detainees. It has two units for women and a smaller unit for couples and families with adult dependents, and is the main facility for the detention of women in the UK.

In December 2010 the government decided that there would be no more children held at Yarl’s Wood. From February 2012 the centre incorporated a short-term holding centre for males who have been detained upon arrival in the country, whilst they undergo initial screening. The centre has been managed by Serco since 2007.

MID has been working regularly at Yarl’s Wood since 2008. Music workshops and community exchanges for children and young people ended in 2010 owing to changes in government policy, but the women’s programme has continued and also now caters for adult families including men.

Music In Detention activities in Bedford now run through Bedford MID, our local partnership between MID, Yarl’s Wood IRC and Bedford Creative Arts. Following the success of the Gosport/Solent local partnership (which no longer exists due to the closure of Haslar IRC in April 2015), it was set up on the shared understanding that local management is the most effective way to involve a significant number of local groups and volunteers in supportive relationships with detainees. The local partnership has taken an innovative approach to their programme, now running weekly workshops during term time with regular slots including the Yarl’s Wood Singing Group, using local musicians to facilitate the workshops.

Bedford MID now provide around 60 workshops a year with adult detainees, including song-writing workshops, African drumming, workshops in improvisation, and workshops in singing technique. 

Our six workshops per year in the community have included community exchanges with young single mothers through Family Groups BedfordFusion United Youth Singing at All Saints Church, and local first and middle schools, including Biddenham Upper School

“We had a very interesting moment when several African and Jamaican women joined for a short time and really joined in the fun with the Chinese women, dancing and laughing while playing. An Indian woman joined half way through and stayed till the end.”

Asian Music Circuit Artist


Much of Bedford Borough is situated in one of the growth areas of the former Milton Keynes and South Midlands. It has an ethnically diverse population – in 2001, 19.2% of the population was from minority ethnic groups (BME), compared to 13% nationally. There has been an increase since 2001, particularly from the countries that joined the European Union in 2004 and 2007, including significant numbers from Poland. More recently, several new migrant communities, such as those from Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, have also developed in the borough.

The Lampard Report

In January 2016 the Lampard report was released. Commissioned by Serco, who manages Yarl’s Wood under a contract with the Home Office, the report investigates the culture and practices at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre, a centre that has been the subject of many troubling media reports about the way staff treat and manage its residents.

Music In Detention welcomes the report which is available to read in full here.