The beautiful handmade homewares produced by Fine Cell Work‘s stitchers are just a small part of the wider story of this fantastic social enterprise that works with prisoners across Britain
A PRISONER AT HMP ALBANY, ISLE OF WIGHT, DOING NEEDLEWORK THROUGH THE FINE CELL WORK ORGANISATION. IMAGE: MATT WATSON/FINE CELL WORK
Founded in 1997 by Lady Anne Tree – a visitor to HMP Holloway women’s prison in the 1960s – Fine Cell Work teaches prisoners high-quality, skilled needlework which they undertake in their cells, as well as sewing machine and textile production skills in prison-based workshops.
Working with 290 prisoners at any one time across 32 British prisons, Fine Cell Work has the largest workforce of hand-stitchers in Europe, crafting finely embroidered cushions, table linen, patchwork quilts, headboards, giftware and more. The initiative has also produced special commissions for the likes of Hampton Court and Dover Castle, which had itself served as a prison in years gone by.
The job of Fine Cell Work is to connect our prison stitchers with the wider world, and to help the wider world understand their humanity and their potential for good.”
The organisation works with leading designers, including Kit Kemp, Pentreath & Hall, Cressida Bell, Melissa Wyndham, Cath Kidston, and most recently Studio Ashby the pieces are quality checked by volunteers who are highly skilled and often have formal embroidery training.
Prisoners are paid for their work, although the benefits are far wider reaching than purely the financial rewards. The late Lady Anne Tree always believed in the therapeutic nature of needlework, saying, “It is meditative, a way of thinking, of taking stock,” and Fine Cell Work aims to address key issues affecting prisoners’ offending behaviour by helping to improve mental health, foster hope and pride, instil self-belief and establish a work ethic.
The goal is to enable prisoners to gain social and employment skills which will hopefully encourage them not to reoffend. Indeed, Fine Cell Work also supports prisoners on release by helping to provide work experience, formal training and employment.
“The job of Fine Cell Work is to connect our prison stitchers with the wider world, and to help the wider world understand their humanity and their potential for good,” says Dr Katy Emck OBE, Founding Director of Fine Cell Work. Reflecting on the history of the organisation on its 20th anniversary in 2017, she said: “I learned what embroidery meant to men and women in prison, how it could feed and nourish minds and hearts starved of purpose and love.”
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