May WI meeting – Fine Cell Work

Fine Cell Work

Jacqui from Fine Cell Work was the speaker at our WI meeting on the 8 May. Fine Cell Work is a social enterprise and charity that works in prisons by teaching prisoners how to do one of the following of appliqué, patchwork, quilting or needlework.

Fine Cell Work was set up by Lady Anne Tree who lobbied for decades to the Home Office to allow prisoners to earn money for the work they completed. The reason needlepoint was chosen was because there is not much prisoners can do in such a small space. The cells at Wandsworth prison where Jacqui volunteers is 12 ft by 6ft.

All prisoners have to carry out a test to be accepted onto a course. Even though there is a waiting list for all of the classes only a 1/3 continue with the work as dedication is needed to continue and improve. The teachers rely on the established stitchers to help teach the new stitchers to improve.

One of the main things that struck me about the good work that Fine Cell Work are doing is the feelings and thoughts it brings about in the prisoners. The fact that they feel respected for the work they are doing. They also receive praise and recognition for their work as it is something they can take pride in, take responsibility for and be dedicated about. When prisoners receive compliments and letters of thanks from customers who have bought their work it is a massive thing as a lot of prisoners have never had a compliment about their work before. Many of these letters are saved by the men. Also for most prisoners it is the first money they have earned from hard honest work and they are encouraged to save it.

The volunteer’s at Wandsworth prison are know as ‘the ladies. They go through ten locked doors to get to D wing where they teach. It was quite surprising to hear that the volunteers only go in once every two weeks for one hour and do not even get a designated place to teach. They take any space they can and this is a constant struggle to find one. This has even resulted to them having to teach out by the bins before.

The volunteers were surprised to find that because of the routine and becoming so institutionalised within the prison system, prisoners were unable to make decisions for themselves. When told they could stitch anything they wanted in any colour most were unsure what to do.

A lovely story that Jacqui shared was a lady who works for a bank and every time an employee has a baby she commissions a bespoke cushion for the parents. Commissions are something the prisoners love to complete as they are being asked to create something for someone else.

A few facts I learned from Jacqui:

40% of people in prison have spent time in care

70% have mental health or drug problems and often these two go together

35% of people in prison also have a relative in prison

1/3 of the selling price of a final product goes to the prisoner

Top stitcher’s can earn £10-15 a week

Five to six men in a class

Two things that are needed to help an offender reoffending and that is family and money.

I loved hearing more about Fine Cell Work and there are more details about the charity on the link below.

Image source: Fine Cell Work

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