As the daughter of a literacy teacher at Huntercombe Prison, the idea of rehabilitating inmates is something frequently touched upon in my household. With unemployment figures at their worst for decades and the job market saturated with middle-class graduates and skilled professionals unable to find work, it’s hardly surprising that many inmates go on to re-offend. And with the stigma of a prison sentence and a frequent lack in qualifications, it can be a bleak and depressing future for anyone wanting to turn their life around post-prison.
And so, Fine Cell Work, a charity that teaches prisoners the art of sewing while serving time, does a fantastic job of providing a much needed skill that prisoners can utilise both in and outside prison. Founded in 1997 by Lady Anne Tree after decades of campaigning for the right of prisoners to earn money, Fine Cell Work has grown from a bedsit in Bloomsbury to a registered charity which has over 60 volunteers training over 400 prisoners in 29 prison across England.
Proving that the extraordinary can happen even in as austere an environment as prison, Fine Cell Work volunteers train prisoners in paid, skilled needlework to foster hope, discipline and self esteem. And with seventy per-cent of convicted prisoners spending an average of seventeen hours a day in their cell, the therapeutic aspect of learning to sew can be just as important as acquiring a new skill.
Such is the success of the charity that all their classes have waiting lists within the prisons and over 2,500 items were sold in 2010, including cushion covers, quilts and tapestries. Each creation takes approximately one-hundred hours to make, and each stitcher embroiders for, on average, twenty hours a week. And with over 10,000 commissions completed since the charity began in 1997 for clients including The V&A, The Tate Modern and The Royal Palaces, Fine Cell Work is proof that with a lot of determination, dedication and hard work prisoners can piece their lives back together stitch by stitch.
The fantastic pieces produced by Fine Cell Work are all available to buy online; commissions are welcomed and having recently been showcased at the London Design Festival, they are also featuring tonight on BBC 2’s The Culture Show at 7pm. We think both the cause and the concept are incredibly worthy and hope that you do too!